Ahead of the Curve
MSC's Charter Class of Communications
Graduates Shows the Humanities Can Thrive At a New Century College
By Sheron Smith
By the time she graduated from Northside High School in 1997,
Warner Robins native Renee Martinez had her college plan all mapped
out: two years at Macon State, then on to the University of Georgia
to pick up her bachelor's degree in journalism.
Part A unfolded just that way. Martinez enrolled at Macon State
and joined the staff of The Matrix, the student newspaper.
But she began rethinking Part B after Dr. Larry Fennelly, one of the
newspaper's faculty advisors, told the staff about a new degree program
Macon State was launching, the bachelor of science in communications
& information technology, or CIT.
The charter graduates of the bachelor
of science in communications & IT pose for a picture at
Macon State's May 22 commencement. In the front row, left
to right, are Lee Greenway and Renee Martinez. In the back,
left to right, are Ninon Crane and Stephen Simpson. A fifth
CIT major, Kelly Jones, graduates this summer.
The degree, unique among undergraduate programs offered by University
System of Georgia institutions, was designed to combine study of
the humanities with a strong core of IT courses, such as multimedia
and computer interface design, to develop specific job-marketable
"I thought about it for a long time," said Martinez,
22. "What made me finally decide to stay at Macon State was
the opportunity to get that IT background. I thought it would help
me stand out and give me skills that a lot of J-school graduates
In May, Martinez became one of the program's charter graduates,
collecting her diploma along with three other CIT majors, Ninon
Crane, Lee Greenway and Stephen Simpson. (A fifth CIT major, Kelly
Jones, is scheduled to complete the program this summer.) Now a
page designer and special assignment reporter for The Daily Sun
in Warner Robins, Martinez plans early next year to begin applying
for jobs at larger newspapers in the Knight Ridder chain.
"I have no regrets at all about staying at Macon State,"
she said. "What I enjoyed most about the CIT program was being
around people who are full of passion about literature, writing
and film. I think the CIT degree is about taking those passions
and channeling them into a career."
The budding success of the CIT program as it enters its third year
is in some ways a pleasant surprise for Macon State, perhaps most
of all to the faculty of the Division of Humanities, where the degree
is housed. Dr. Kevin Cantwell, an associate professor of English
who coordinates CIT curriculum development and student advising,
said that while the program remains a work in progress, he thinks
it is evolving into one of the most cutting-edge undergraduate degrees
in the state.
"I couldn't be any happier with the first two years of our
program," he said. "We're offering some of the most intellectually
challenging courses on campus, and we are offering courses that
nobody else is at the four-year level. It's been rewarding to watch
the intellectual growth of our students over the past couple of
Supporting MSC's Mission
Dr. Bob Kelly, the humanities division's chair, is also pleased
with the program's progress. He expected about 50 students to be
CIT majors at this point; instead, some 70 currently are pursuing
the degree, and he predicts that number will climb to 100 in the
coming academic year.
While that's far fewer than the number of students in Macon State's
most popular four-year programs - IT and business & information
technology - the CIT degree nonetheless stands out for its innovative
pairing of two disciplines that not so long ago seemed irrelevant
to each other. If business and information technology were a match
made in heaven, humanities and IT were - to paraphrase the University
of Texas at Arlington's Philip Cohen - a dance with the devil.
"Like many in the humanities, English department faculty members
are often suspicious of forging links with business and industry,"
Cohen, associate dean of the university's graduate school and former
chair of the English department, wrote in an essay published in
the spring issue of the ADE Bulletin. "... This suspicion is
a luxury that only humanities professors and English professors
at elite institutions and liberal arts colleges can afford."
The humanities faculty knew what the first test would be for any
new baccalaureate degree proposal at Macon State: it must support
the college's mission, prescribed in 1997 by the Board of Regents,
to focus on market-driven four-year programs. But an early draft
of a communications degree designed to be in keeping with that mission
was a disappointment to Kelly and many of his colleagues"
I didn't think there was much to cheer about from a humanities
standpoint," Kelly said. "The degree proposed at that
time seemed like an IT degree with a few service courses in humanities,
such as professional writing and speech, thrown in for good measure."
With the support of Macon State's president, Dr. David A. Bell,
and Dr. J. Thomas Isherwood, then the newly arrived dean of the
faculty, the humanities division substantially revised the proposal
in 1999. Working with a consultant from Georgia Tech, which offers
a master's degree with similar features, Macon State humanities
faculty created new courses in gender studies, computer ethics,
non-Western literature, popular culture, the history of print and
a survey of film, among others.
Two major tracks emerged, New Media and Cross-Cultural, and the
division began what most certainly will become a trend to fill faculty
vacancies with instructors who have academic backgrounds particularly
suited to the CIT program. One of the newcomers is Dr. David Sidore,
a tech-savvy assistant professor of English who earned his doctorate
in critical and cultural studies from the University of Pittsburgh.
Joining the foreign languages department as assistant professor
was Dr. David de Posada, who has a background in non-Western literature,
a key part of the Cross-Cultural track.
A Viable Program
Courses - Bachelor of Science
Communications & Information Technology
|New Media Track
Humanities Core Courses
(18 semester hours)
ENGL 3106 Professional Communication
JOUR 3131 News Writing
HUMN 4340 Introduction to Ethics
COMM 2010 Interpersonal Skills for a Global Society
ENGL 4481 Survey of Film
HUMN 4440 Critical Perspectives
New Media Track (24 semester
ENGL 4480 History of Print
HUMN 3999 Special Topics
ENGL 4482 Popular Culture
ENGL 3100 Survery of New Media Communication
HUMN 4460 Senior Seminar: Media Criticism
ENGL 4483 Senior Project
Electives (6 hours)
Humanities Core Courses (18
HUMN 4342 Ethics
HUMN 4440 Critical Perspectives
HUMN 3010 Cross-Cultural Issues
HUMN 3999 Special Topics
FOREIGN LANGUAGE (6 hours; electives may be substituted
with advisor's permission)
Cross-Cultural Track (24 hours)
HUMN 4472 Comparative Cultures
ENGL 3206 Gender Studies
ENGL 4620 Non-Western Literature
ENGL 4483 Popular Culture
COMM 2010 Interpersonal Skills for a Global Society
HUMN 4483 Senior Project
Electives (6 hours)
Technology Core Courses*
ITEC 3235 Computer Interface Design
ITEC 3236 Introduction to Multimedia
ITEC 4233 Multimedia Tools & Techniques
ITEC 4205 Legal Issues in Information Technology
ITEC 4232 Introduction to Desktop Publishing
*Identical for both tracks
In the degree program's retooled version, CIT offers 12 core courses
split evenly between humanities and IT. "I think the curriculum
changes we made are more soundly grounded and offer the student
a coherent program," said Dr. Janice Edens, who was the humanities
division's interim chair while the degree was under development.
"Frankly, it just feels good."
Dr. Bill Elieson, the IT division's chair, agrees that the humanities
faculty has hit upon a successful formula.
"It's clear that technology is increasingly important to the
practice of various communications careers, so this curriculum makes
sense," he said. "The humanities division should be congratulated
for taking the bold step of putting it together."
In what is probably the CIT program's most important component,
students in both major tracks are required to complete senior projects
that in some way combine their IT knowledge with the writing, verbal
and critical thinking skills they develop through the humanities
For her senior project, Martinez created an online version of Macon
State's literary magazine, Fall Line Review, and, in a presentation
that all of the college's faculty and staff were invited to attend,
discussed the development of "e-zines" and the challenges
traditional print publications face in the Digital Age.
Greenway, 21, whom Bell named President's Scholar for the senior
class this past spring, wrote, produced and directed a short film
based on a story that appeared in a previous issue of the Fall Line
Review. He illustrated features of digital editing and discussed
how filmmakers take written text and effectively bring out its meaning
in visual formats.
Simpson, 23, created a web version of the Macon State student newspaper,
The Matrix, and discussed the newspaper industry's shift from printed
text to hypertext and the ethical questions raised in the process.
Jones, who helped found a gender studies program at the college,
developed a related website that included an online survey to help
evaluate the needs of female students. Crane developed a well-researched,
comprehensive website containing resources for future CIT students.
"Most of these students didn't have those IT skills a year
ago," Kelly said. "What those senior projects showed me
was that our program is certainly viable and productive. Many traditional
English departments at colleges and universities throughout the
country are struggling to convince the public of their relevance
in the Digital Age, but I think our program screams relevance. With
the support of the administration, the humanities division has created
a program that reflects our academic strengths and supports Macon
Some of the charter graduates said a number of Macon State students
in other majors were curious about the CIT degree, even if it wasn't
a program of study they would choose for themselves.
"Instead of being the beatniks or the bookworms, CIT majors
were seen as true academics in search of knowledge and understanding,"
Simpson said. "We were the cyber-scholars at MSC."
Simpson, like Martinez, chose to remain at Macon State rather than
transfer to UGA to pursue an undergraduate degree. Although he planned
all along to go to graduate school, which he'll begin at Georgia
State University this fall, Simpson was attracted to the CIT program's
uniqueness and job marketability.
"Anyone can major in English or philosophy," said Simpson,
a Stratford Academy graduate. "Only a few select individuals
can major in English and have top-notch technology skills. The discussion
of philosophy and ethics inherent in humanities helped me understand
the development and implementation of technology in the workplace,
a perspective that wasn't available to students majoring solely
in IT or English."
At 36, Crane represented non-traditional students in the first CIT
graduating class. The British Columbia native said she was nervous
about majoring in what essentially was an experimental program because,
as a single mom with a teenaged daughter, Crane needed to make sure
she would learn some job-marketable skills.
Dr. David Sidore, left, teaches a summer
section of his Popular Culture class, part of the CIT curriculum.
"Making use of technology in other studies is a fairly new
concept, so it was frightening as well as exciting," said Crane,
who is leaning toward a career in multimedia development. "I
think even the professors and those who designed the degree have
been surprised at the evolution of it. "
Greenway, 21, a stellar student who held a number of leadership
roles during his four years at Macon State, is enrolling at UGA
this fall to pursue a master's degree in media studies. A Warner
Robins High School graduate, Greenway said the CIT program far exceeded
"It's a truly exceptional academic setting in which to learn
how to operate in the digital world without abandoning the fundamental
ideas which make us human beings," he said. "The humanities
aspect of the curriculum was so advanced above traditional skill-based
courses that the result was not necessarily a newly-acquired ability,
but instead a change in (the students') fundamental way of thinking."
Jones, a Tattnall Square Academy graduate who is wrapping up the
CIT program's requirements this summer, took a break from college
for a while and returned to Macon State with plans to "go to
class and then go straight home." She credits the CIT classes
to opening her eyes to opportunities for campus involvement.
"In my computer ethics class I wrote a paper on the gender
gap in technology, and that inspired me to form the Women's Studies
Association," said Jones, 23, who also became co-editor of
The Matrix. "I started this program hoping for nothing more
than a college degree that would help me find a job, but I'm leaving
with higher expectations and the ability to trust my own talents."
The CIT program was the catalyst for the humanities division's
decision to host an academic conference this past spring that explored
topics related to cyberculture and the humanities. The conference
drew 70 academics from all over Georgia and featured noted author
John Barth, who spoke on the topic, "The End of the Word As
we Know It." Barth's appearance was open to the public, as
was a live demonstration of Internet2, the high-speed research network
being developed by a consortium of U.S. colleges and universities.
Kelly said members of the humanities and IT divisions are now tossing
around some ideas for an Internet2 project, such as presenting a
real-time interactive theater production. The conference's success,
he said, is further evidence that the CIT program is progressing
The humanities division plans to continue fine-tuning the program
over the next few years. Cantwell wants to strengthen partnerships
with the Central Georgia private sector to boost the number of internship
opportunities for CIT majors. Kelly would like to see humanities
and IT faculty members team-teach more courses, and he also hopes
to boost the number of classes offered at night to help market the
degree toward working adults. The development of MSC-TV, tentatively
to be launched this fall, and the creation of a CIT computer lab
will further strengthen the program.
As a CIT trailblazer, Martinez said she plans to keep up with the
program as it matures.
"I'm anxious to see what paths my fellow grads choose to take,
and where the next set of CIT grads will go in their careers,"
she said. "We all seem to be taking a varied approach to the
next phase of our lives. Perhaps the degree will prove as versatile
as I hoped."