John McCluskey is a third-year Spanish and history major planning for graduate school. Amber Lux won’t rule out further study, but the social work major hopes to land a job once she graduates in May. McCluskey likes poring over old manuscripts. Lux, by contrast, enjoys helping elderly people.
They have different goals and interests, but both McCluskey and Lux have found University of Iowa certificate programs that further their academic and career objectives. McCluskey is pursuing a certificate in medieval studies, Lux a certificate in aging studies.
Most certificate programs are housed in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences (CLAS), but they frequently draw on faculty from across campus. Aging studies faculty, for example, come from the Leisure Studies Program and School of Social Work in the CLAS, and from the College of Nursing and the College of Public Health.
“A group of faculty who have common interests will get together and decide they want to offer a certificate,” says Helena Dettmer, CLAS associate dean for academic programs and services, noting that this mix of academic expertise benefits students and faculty alike. “The more interdisciplinary a faculty member can be, the more it enhances his or her research to look at issues from multiple perspectives.”
The approach may be especially helpful in studying the European medieval period—or Middle Ages—which is generally said to encompass the fifth through the sixteenth centuries.
“Modern times in many ways begin with the Renaissance, so there is a greater historical divide between the Middle Ages and today,” says Glenn Ehrstine, associate professor of German and academic coordinator for the Medieval Studies Program. The program’s students usually come from English, history, language study, or art history, but they’re united by the belief that medieval echoes resonate in today’s world.
“They realize you can dig deeper and uncover the past, and that even the Middle Ages remain relevant to the 21st century if you know what questions to ask,” Ehrstine says.
McCluskey came to the University considering law school or graduate study, and the inter-disciplinary nature of medieval studies seemed suited to both. Now that he’s settled on the latter, he’s especially grateful for his experience.
“The faculty are very encouraging, and they provide good advice and references,” he says. “The certificate shows graduate schools that you’re interested in your field. While it won’t get you into grad school by itself, it certainly gives you the resources you need.”
Aging studies students are usually intent on practice in a health care or social service field, according to Richard MacNeil, professor of leisure studies and academic coordinator for the Aging Studies Program. “Most are interested in working with older adults,” he says. “We supplement the disciplines they are majoring in.”
Students enter the program to build professional skills or help address the needs of a graying population. “The third factor that motivates interest in this program is the fact that we’re all aging,” MacNeil says. “It’s the phenomenon we all share—hopefully, at least.”
Lux enrolled after taking the program’s introductory course, Basic Aspects of Aging. “One thing I like is that I can apply the knowledge to my own life,” she said. “I’ll be able to see in myself, and in the people around me, the things I’ve learned about.”
This semester, Lux is completing the program’s fieldwork requirement at RidgeView Assisted Living Community and MeadowView Memory Care Village in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. She plans to pursue a career that would let her work with older adults who have specific disabilities or dementia.
Students can opt for a minor in aging studies, and some do, MacNeil says, simply because they discover the program too late to complete the certificate. It’s a problem common to certificate programs, which tend to be small and are promoted largely by word of mouth.
“Parents can help by encouraging students to register for these programs,” said Ehrstine. “We can provide better advising and help students complete their requirements on time.”
Some certificate fields may sound esoteric or extremely specialized, but faculty say they provide capsule versions of the classic liberal arts education. “It’s in interdisciplinary programs like these that students gain for themselves a greater understanding of the world, a broader perspective, and the realization that there’s nothing new under the sun,” Ehrstine says.
by Lin Larson