Master of Arts in Interdisciplinary Studies

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Building on the success of its undergraduate program, the School of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences offers a Master of Arts degree in Interdisciplinary Studies. The graduate program offers opportunities to pursue questions of interest across a wide range of fields, spanning the humanities, social sciences and environmental sciences, with special emphasis on the relation of knowledge to public action.

What are Interdisciplinary Studies?

The concept of interdisciplinary studies is founded on a recognition that the experience of phenomena—such as the public problems of poverty, violence, social justice or environmental degradation—do not come in neatly bounded, disciplinary or professional packages. While disciplinary divisions of labor are convenient and necessary to the efficient pursuit of in-depth knowledge, the application of that knowledge in the sphere of public action requires its broader re-integration with the rich, multidisciplinary dimensions and complexities of actual, lived situations.

The structure of the Master of Arts program is highly flexible, building on the wealth of disciplinary and interdisciplinary expertise among members of the faculty.  A required series of five core courses and a capstone course address issues of models, problem formation, evidence, values, and research/writing.  The core courses examine the basic foundations of knowing and acting, making them relevant to diverse areas of specific inquiry.  Through electives and a thesis (or Master’s project or practicum), students are encouraged to apply the lessons of the core courses to their own chosen areas of interdisciplinary interest.  A broad range of student interests can be accommodated due to the interdisciplinary nature of the program.

The program integrates the sociology of knowledge, philosophy, social and political theory, history, cultural studies, anthropology and other perspectives to shed light on domains of public action. Some examples of possible areas of interest, broadly defined, might include the environment, education, anthropology, ethnicity, gender and sexuality, art and arts administration, media and film, cultural studies, philosophy, literature and writing, human rights, labor, immigration, history, trade and development, social policy, nonprofit studies, state and local government or international non-governmental organizations.

What is Public Action?

Public action entails a series of determinations that are reached as a result of the following considerations:

  • What is the nature of the problem to be addressed?
  • What mode of analysis is to be employed?
  • What will count as evidence?
  • What values are considered relevant or irrelevant?
  • What options are included or excluded?
  • What outcomes of the action are anticipated or unanticipated?

By exploring these questions the Master’s program becomes a sustained investigation of factors that critically shape actions, procedures and outcomes. The factors to be investigated include:

  • Conceptual models, or paradigms
  • Social, professional and institutional cultures
  • Various types of data used to support alternative perspectives and decisions
  • How various value frameworks shape perspectives, decisions and actions

These factors provide a foundation for knowledge and action in the public sphere.  The core course of study in this program may therefore apply to virtually any profession or endeavor in our shared public life, whether one works in a large organization or a one-person shop, whether one seeks knowledge for utilitarian ends or to achieve a richer understanding of the world in which everyone must live and act.

Degree Options

The Master of Arts program emphasizes foundations of public action and is a 55-credit masters degree. There are three MAIS degree options:

General MAIS Option

The General degree option is a sustained investigation of factors that critically shape actions, procedures and outcomes. These factors provide foundations for knowledge and action in the public sphere. This degree option is well suited for entry into or advancement along community relations, public agency management, community organizing, facilitation, consumer advocacy, policy and/or decision making, political action and governmental relations.

Students will learn:

  • How alternative paradigms or models condition our knowledge of the world and how our choice of potential responses connects to how we perceive the world to be organized.
  • How to gain insight into the impact of culture and history on the way certain phenomena come to be defined in the public arena as problems, and how they are variously imagined to be caused or solved in relation to diverse professional and disciplinary claims of ownership over them.
  • How evidence can be justified, generated, evaluated and used with varying degrees of validity within diverse frames of application.
  • How to gain insight into the ways in which values are implicitly or explicitly present in every arena socially deemed to be problematic, and how it may be possible to facilitate communication, negotiations, or trade-offs among and across diverse value frames.
  • How to gain experience in facilitating communication, negotiations, or trade-offs among and across diverse value frames.

Community and Social Change Option

The Community and Social Change degree option focuses on the integration of theory and practice to achieve economic, racial, gender, and social justice through the transformation of local communities. This degree option offers students the knowledge and the development of strategies and skills to improve the lives of those who, historically, are most vulnerable and have been marginalized. This track is especially relevant for students looking to acquire practical skills that will help them become community leaders, policy analysts, and/or social justice practitioners.

Students will learn to:

  • Assess socially meaningful identities in a variety of cultural and critical contexts, and to communicate across social boundaries in a multicultural world.
  • Analyze and/or critique theories of race/ethnicity, social class, gender/sexuality and how they have been put into practice to improve the lives of the most vulnerable in the past and in the present locally, nationally, and/or globally.
  • Demonstrate comparative research and critical thinking skills for understanding the range of lived experiences in local and global communities and to understand how power operates in society.
  • Evaluate various analytical and/or rhetorical frameworks related to various areas of study within community studies, and relevant to the world of work, civic engagement, and community development.

Nonprofit Studies Option

The Nonprofit Studies degree option integrates theory and research regarding organizational development; analyzes the social, cultural, economic and creative foundations of cultural management and policy; introduces the history, philosophy, organization, administration, and practice of nonprofit organizations. It also provides an overview of the best practices, systems, and management principles underlying successful fundraising programs. This option requires students to develop a project during their practicum. Students produce a demonstrable example of expertise and interest in the rigorous writing of a practitioner/scholarly paper.

Students will learn to:

  • Demonstrate leadership skills and knowledge in topics such as the management of human resources (both paid and volunteer), fundraising, program evaluation, fiscal management, and governance in nonprofit organizations.
  • Design projects, programs and/or policies that address community issues;
  • Negotiate the inevitable political and economic realities of providing social benefit to communities.
  • Create outcome-based logic models that are required for foundation funding, with a special emphasis on the local/regional level.

Curriculum

Core Courses

The five core courses are closely integrated, constituting a single, extended investigation of how issues and problems are evaluated in the process of taking action. The courses examine analytical tools and how special and organizational cultures influence the work required in moving toward making action.

  • TIAS 501           Models and Critical Inquiry
  • TIAS 502           Culture and Public Problems
  • TIAS 503           Evidence and Action
  • TIAS 504           Values and Action
  • TIAS 513           Introduction to Graduate Research and Writing

Capstone/Practicum Course

Students enroll in the capstone course (TIAS 505 - General/Community & Social Change Option or the Practicum (TNPRFT 590 - Nonprofit Management Option) after the completion of the core course series and after they have substantially completed courses applying them to the writing of a thesis or project rationale.

Area of Emphasis

Students will work with a faculty advisor to develop a focus within the student's chosen area of interest. The required 10 credits of electives are to be chosen carefully in consultation with the academic advisor, as stepping stones toward the substance of the thesis or project.

In addition to elective courses developed specifically for the Master of Arts degree, students can select from a wide range of courses offered at UW Tacoma, including some of those offered in other UW Tacoma graduate programs, or approved 400 level courses from the undergraduate curriculum.

Enrollment and Curriculum Sequencing

Admission is competitive and is based on space availability in the core courses as well as fit between applicants and available faculty. Core courses are offered in the evenings, alternating between Monday/Wednesday and Tuesday/Thursday.

Options

General MAIS Option

  • Five core courses (25 credits)
    • TIAS 501           Models and Critical Inquiry (5 credits)
    • TIAS 502           Culture and Public Problems (5 credits)
    • TIAS 503           Evidence and Action (5 credits)
    • TIAS 504           Values and Action (5 credits)
    • TIAS 513           Introduction to Graduate Research and Writing (5 credits)
  • ​Approved methods course (5 credits)
  • Capstone course (5 credits)
    • TIAS 505           IAS MA Capstone (5 credits)
  • Electives - Two 400 level or above courses that support the student's research in the program (10 credits)
  • Final project or thesis (10 credits) Community and Social Change Option
    • TIAS 605           Degree Project or,
    • TIAS 700           Thesis

Community and Social Change Option

  • Five core courses (25 credits)
    • TIAS 501          Models and Critical Inquiry (5 credits)
    • TIAS 502          Culture and Public Problems (5 credits)
    • TIAS 503          Evidence and Action (5 credits)
    • TIAS 504          Values and Action, or approved, Social Theory course (5 credits)
    • TIAS 513          Introduction to Graduate Research and Writing (5 credits)
  • Approved methods course (5 credits)
  • Capstone course (5 credits)
    • TIAS 505          IAS MA Capstone (5 credits)
  • Electives - Two 400 level or above courses that support the student's research in the program (10 credits)
  • Final project or thesis (10 credits)
    • TIAS 605          Degree Project or,
    • TIAS 700          Thesis

​Nonprofit Management Option

  • Five core courses (25 credits)
    • TIAS 501           Models and Critical Inquiry (5 credits)
    • TIAS 502           Culture and Public Problems (5 credits)
    • TIAS 503           Evidence and Action (5 credits)
    • TIAS 504           Values and Action (5 credits)
    • TIAS 513           Introduction to Graduate Research and Writing (5 credits)
  • Three nonprofit courses (15 credits)
    • TIAS 531           Community Organizations in the Nonprofit Sector (5 credits)
    • TIAS 551           Grant Writing (5 credits) or,
    • TIAS 553           Nonprofit Financial Literacy (5 credits)
    • TIAS 532           Organizational Development (5 credits) or,
    • TIAS 548           Cultural Administration and Policy
  • Practicum
    • TNPRFT 590     Nonprofit Practicum (5 credits)
  • Electives - Two 400 level or above courses that support the students research in the program (10 credits)