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EcoCenter Offers Degree Programs
By Megan Bainum in The Utah Statesman, Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2011
The residents of Park City and Summit County now have the option to take classes through Utah State's [University] Regional Campuses and Distance Education program. The Swaner EcoCenter and Preserve, a donation to USU in 2010, began offering broadcast and online classes for the new spring semester.
Utah State started planning for USU degrees in fall 2010, said Martha Archuleta, associate dean for the Wasatch Front region. She said since the degrees now being offered through the ecocenter were already being delivered through USU's regional campuses and distance education system, they were able to put everything into place "fairly quickly."
Annette Herman, the executive director of Swaner Preserve, said the center was going to put off offering classes for a few years, but after talking with community members and leaders, realized it was something Park City and Summit County wanted.
"The community leaders were really interested in USU offering classes in the county, so it was a good time to launch," Herman said.
The decision of what degrees to offer was made after meeting with community members, as well as focusing on degrees that relate to the center, Herman said. She said the community expressed great interest in the business aspect, which is why four majors under the business college were included.
The center will offer bachelor's degrees in recreation resource management, residential landscape design, and business – accounting, entrepreneurship, economics, and management information systems. Students will be able to earn a master's degree in natural resources as well.
Mark Brunson, head of the department of environment and society, said offering a degree like recreation resource management (RRM), will prepare students in managing outdoor settings like national and state parks and can "provide high-quality recreation experiences while protecting the land into the future."
He said there are opportunities in the RRM field to find jobs throughout the state in small towns, such as Park City, since more communities hope to attract tourists "because of Utah's natural beauty."
Archuleta said the classes are available online and will also be delivered through interactive broadcasting where "students will be interacting in real time with the instructor and other students across the state."
The Swaner EcoCenter has four to five different areas that are appropriate for holding classes for up to 20 people, Herman said.
"The students are observing the professor from a video screen, where the professor can see into the classroom as well," Herman said. "The professor can ask questions and talk to the students just like they were in the same room."
Herman said these classes include students all over the state that are a part of USU's distance education program. She said "in theory," the professor can be teaching in Logan and have students from all over the state of Utah participating.”
Brunson said he hopes to see students throughout the state eventually be able to learn in a more combined environment, not just separate programs for "on-campus" and "off-campus" students.
"We really want students throughout the state to learn from each other … and it's a great opportunity to work closely with the people at the Swaner EcoCenter who share the passion our students and faculty have for building a world where humans and nature can coexist for the benefit of all," Brunson said.
Archuleta said the programs that are being delivered at the EcoCenter are a major advantage because they coincide with the center’s mission, which is: "To Preserve the land and the human connection to the natural landscape, to Educate the local and broader communities about the value of nature, and to Nurture both the ecosystem and the people connected with it."
"We have a mission to educate, which is clearly Utah State's mission as well, so it all worked out incorporating classes into the EcoCenter," Herman said.
Brunson said the RRM program also incorporates his department's mission.
"We're especially excited to be able to use the Swaner EcoCenter and Preserve as an educational facility because its mission is so closely tied to what we do in our department. We teach students about living sustainably as well as making a living successfully, and that's what the EcoCenter is about also," Brunson said.
Archuleta said the estimated 6-10 students enrolled is what they were expecting for this semester and she is optimistic about how things will grow in the future.
"We anticipate we will have 6-10 students which is what we were targeting," Archuleta said. "In a sense, this is a pilot phase for offering classes at the Swaner EcoCenter with the goal of a larger launch with additional recruitment efforts targeting fall semester 2011."
Herman said since the center launched this information over Thanksgiving, the numbers for the first semester is positive.
"Thanksgiving is not a great time to get the word out so the fact that we had more than two or three is a great success in my mind," she said. "We did what I call a soft launch that made it so we could start getting students here and make sure everything is up and running before more students start to enroll."
Archuleta said with the late afternoon and evening classes being offered, people who are working full or part-time will have a better chance of being able to take a class.
Herman said a few students are currently teachers in the county as well as adults who are either finishing up degrees or starting new ones.
"I would say we mostly have older, nontraditional students enrolled, which is what we were expecting," she said.
However, Herman said she isn't just excited for the older adults, but also the high school kids to help them have a better awareness of the "quality of education that Utah State provides."
"I am excited about giving Summit County residents the chance to get some great education from USU and I think that through this we will start having interactions with college age people and adults and introduce another portion of the state's residents to what USU has to offer," Herman said.
The main project that had to happen before this was possible for the ecocenter, Herman said, was putting into place a "pretty expensive" IT infrastructure and cabling that was needed for the classrooms.