Degrees of Difference

Expanding academic offerings open up new paths, possibilities

By Paige Parvin 96G

When Kevin Wack 13G 13MTS applied to law school at Georgia State University to study health law, he had something the other applicants didn’t: a background that blends theology and bioethics.

Wack is the first graduate of Emory’s dual master’s degree programs that pair bioethics studies in the Laney Graduate School and the Center for Ethics with—in his case—theological studies at Candler School of Theology. Other complementary disciplines include law, medicine, nursing, and public health. These relatively new programs represent a broader push to offer academic degrees that cross the boundaries of traditional disciplines, positioning graduates to be thought leaders in richly varied careers.

“The dual degree allows each field to strengthen the other,” says Wack, now in law school. “It helped me gain practical experience in a clinical setting, incorporating both ethics consultations and pastoral counseling.” Wack’s capstone project explored Catholic views on embryo adoption.

The bioethics and theological studies degree, as well as the dual degree with nursing, are among the only such offerings in the country; Emory’s is just the third MA/MSN program with this particular focus. Creating these academic partnerships was an obvious way to blend Emory’s strengths for students’ benefit, according to Toby Schonfeld, director of graduate studies for the MA-Bioethics Program.

“Bioethics itself is quite interdisciplinary, addressing issues that cross the lines between academic fields and affect health care broadly conceived,” she says. “With a master’s in bioethics alone, we are able to give students a look into the windows of other disciplines, but a dual degree allows them to be in the room together.”

Lisa Tedesco, dean of Laney Graduate School, says that Emory has taken a “purposeful stand” by creating dual degree tracks that require students to be fully admitted to two separate programs and to satisfy the requirements for both. Another important distinction, she says, is the academic interconnectedness of the graduate school, which does not have departments but programs that both channel the strengths of long-established departments and blur the lines that divide them.

“We are so strong, and getting stronger, at understanding our connections beyond the department structure for the delivery of contemporary, interdisciplinary graduate education,” Tedesco says.

She points to the graduate program in cancer biology, which just admitted its third cohort, as a successful example. The PhD program “is aimed at getting young scientists to wholly understand the cancer experience and what it means to be in cancer treatment from a 360-degree perspective,” she says. “What we are trying to do is take the strength and focus that has been so present for Emory on the academic health side, and give students understanding from a social sciences and humanities viewpoint as well.”

The graduate school also is launching a new injury and violence prevention certificate program.

A human health major for undergraduates, first offered this fall in Emory College of Arts and Sciences, also will draw on existing academic resources to prepare students for health care and related fields. Nationally, Emory is among a small but growing number of universities to offer a health major in response to industry trends, says Michelle Lampl, director of the Center for the Study of Human Health.

“Health is a top priority in the US and the world today,” says Lampl, also Samuel Candler Dobbs Professor of Anthropology. “We’re trying to offer a liberal arts education with that in mind, providing an educational perspective that someone who will be a professional in the twenty-first century needs to have in their portfolio—from a research scientist to a policymaker, a music therapist to someone involved in pastoral care.”

The new major also will offer the possibility of pursuing minors in popular existing programs, such as global health and predictive health.

Not all new offerings are focused on health, however. Candler is launching five new degree programs, including doctor of ministry; master of arts in religious leadership; master of arts in religion and public life; and two more dual degrees, master of divinity–master of development practice with Laney Graduate School and master of divinity–master of social work. The graduate school also has a new PhD program in Islamic civilizations studies, structured to offer an interdisciplinary approach to the study of Islam, including and beyond the topic of religion. And sixty-five students are now enrolled in the School of Law’s juris master program, which was launched a year ago; its students include several doctors and HR professionals, as well as a chief technology officer.

Related: Watch videos about Emory's Master of Arts in Bioethics Program.

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