Susanne Darnell and Dan Lattimore
They say you can't fit a square peg in a round hole.
And all too often, that's just how nontraditional adult
and interdisciplinary students feel. There's a place
at The University of Memphis, though, where nontraditional
students are the rule, not the exception: University College.
As its name implies, the University College melds courses
from every corner of The U of M to accommodate majors that
defy categorization elsewhere on campus. For example, do biomedical
illustration students belong with science majors in the College
of Arts and Sciences, or should they be placed with art majors
in the College of Communication and Fine Arts? The University
College solves these conundrums by housing these hybrids.
New Dean Dan Lattimore recently replaced Dr. Susanne Darnell,
who retired last August after serving the University College
in various capacities since it was founded in 1975. Darnell
says helping to form the school was a "very satisfying
task," and says it has proved to be a worthy addition
to The U of M.
"The role we've played in the University has been
significant," Darnell (MA '70) says, "and I've
enjoyed working with so many good faculty and outstanding
Despite the change in leadership, the primary goal remains
the same: Give the students the best degree programs possible.
"We're trying to enhance the quality of education
while increasing opportunities," Dr. Lattimore says.
One such educational enhancement is the highly involved special
project. Students are required to complete a semester-long
project during their final semester. The outcome has varied
from student to student; the common thread is their value
to potential employers, who increasingly want to see portfolios
and other examples of applied knowledge.
University College occasionally acts as a laboratory
for cultivating new degrees, but some degrees' homes
aren't necessarily static.
college has become an incubator for new degree programs,"
Darnell says. "We'll start one when there are a small
number of persons who are interested in a particular
major. Later, it possibly will become a 'traditional'
major in another college."
are some of the degree programs the University College
has matured for other colleges:
Music (now in College of Communication and Fine Arts)
- African-American Studies (now in College of Arts and Sciences)
- American Humanics (now in School of Urban Affairs and Public Policy)
- Judaic Studies (now in College of Arts and Sciences)
"We really want to place more emphasis on learning outcomes,"
Lattimore says. "A culminating experience like the special
project brings all of the student's coursework together. It's
one of the best ways of looking at how successful the educational
process has been."
The required special project isn't the only aspect of the
University College that makes it unique. Students many
of whom are adults returning to higher education have
a variety of options that bolster their ability to get a degree.
Off-campus sites and distance learning opportunities in Dyersburg
and Jackson, Tenn., have opened up The U of M to the entire
western Tennessee region.
The online degree is also opening doors beyond physical campus
borders. Don't mistake this program for the correspondence
courses of yesteryear classes feature plenty of interaction
among classmates and with the instructor. Courses are engaging,
informative and challenging.
Sharon Doyle, the University College's distance education
adviser, says online learning programs give the flexibility
that some students desire.
"It's a great benefit for students to be able to
go to class when it is convenient for them even if
that's at 3 a.m.," she says. "Most are mature
and know the need of finishing a degree for their advancement."
Despite ventures into the online and distance-learning arenas,
most courses take place on The U of M campus, where the University
College takes every opportunity to gather great instructors.
"We don't really have our own faculty, so to speak,
but we have use of all the University faculty, so in some
sense we can pick from the best," Lattimore says.
Further, the University College uses key adjunct instructors.
There are great benefits to using these instructors, says
Dr. Dorothy Norris-Tirrell, associate professor and director
of the public and nonprofit administration program. She assisted
with the creation of the American Humanics program, which
later was moved to the School of Urban Affairs and Public
October, UC Alumni Board Members met with Dean Dan Lattimore
and Associate Dean David Arant. From left, Laura Ingram,
Lattimore, Shanika Scurlock, Barbara Arnold, Mary Lou
Lane, Dottie Spikner, Barbara Lawing, Arant, Gwendolyn
Williams, Walter Crews and Mary Brignole.
"Adjunct instructors come with a really practical understanding
of information," Norris-Tirrell says. "They have
firsthand experience with the topics being discussed. They've
been there. They know what it's like."
Superb faculty and seasoned adjunct instructors aren't
the only resources, either. With so many working adults enrolled
in the University College, the students themselves become
a resource network for each other.
"You have people with work experiences people with
life experiences who share with each other and really
contribute to the educational environment," Lattimore says,
adding that students often can earn experiential credit for
those work experiences.
Norris-Tirrell says that adult students generally do well
because they are more motivated.
"They take school so seriously," she says. "They
have made the commitment and the sacrifices to be here. Many
have full-time jobs, and going to school means time away from
their families or their free time."
University College leaders point to the numerous successful
alumni as a way to gauge the school's effectiveness.
Examples of alumni who are making positive impacts in Memphis
include Rose Wallace Klimek (BPS '85), former director
of emergency services at Metropolitan Inter-Faith Association;
downtown redevelopment pioneer Carol Coletta (BPS '81);
Susan Helms (BPS '88), coordinator of the Mid-South SAFE
KIDS Coalition; police Captain Walter Crews (BPS '91);
and Tennessee Representative John DeBerry (BPS '96).
And current students in the University College are finding
out what alumni already know being a "square peg"
at The U of M means a richly unique education is on the way.