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College of Arts and Sciences

McCausland Fund awardees to innovate online learning in dance education, sociology

South Carolina’s first master’s degree in dance studies and an online sociology minor are under development thanks to two new McCausland Innovation Fund awards. 

The  McCausland Innovation Fund  is designed to inspire and support bold advances in the College of Arts and Sciences. It is one of  three programs created by a gift from Peter McCausland, a 1971 graduate of UofSC’s history program, and his wife, Bonnie McCausland.  

The awards will help support the Master of Arts in Dance Studies and the Summer of Sociology programs. These projects, expected to launch Summer 2024, will provide fresh opportunities for students to participate in hybrid and distance learning experiences year-round.  

S.C.’s first dance master’s program 

The Master of Dance Studies program is a first-of-its-kind undertaking that will provide graduate-level dance study with the goal to address the increasing need for teachers in K-12 dance education.  

Currently, no South Carolina universities offer a graduate program for dance. Also, the state has few pathways to teaching licensure for K-12 dance instructors aside from a four-year degree. With more than 45 percent of statewide dance educator positions currently unfilled, having an additional pathway to licensure is of critical importance. 

UofSC’s new master’s program will be the premier opportunity for graduate-level dance education, professional development and training for future dance educators. Additionally, employers seek out the innovative and creative skills that students gain from post-secondary arts learning. 

Stephanie Milling, head of dance education at UofSC, says there are also substantial benefits for school-age students involved in arts learning. Research shows that dance education is an important part of K-12 curriculum, providing cognitive, social and emotional benefits which lead to more successful and engaged children. 

Graduate students will choose from two available tracks. The initial licensure track will serve those who plan to teach in public schools. The professional studies track will allow licensed dance educators to qualify for positions that require a master’s degree and facilitate pursuit of a terminal degree, such as an MFA or Ph.D. in dance. 

Students can enroll whether they’re living in-state or across the country, but those joining the program from out of state will need to be on campus during the start of the summer cohort. The hybrid master program will involve face-to-face and virtual summer courses with accelerated distance learning courses during the academic year.  

Core courses for both tracks will address educational theory and philosophy as well as creative practice. The McCausland award funding will support creating hybrid-model courses within the Department of Theatre and Dance and facilitate collaboration on courses with other departments. 

One summer, one minor 

The Summer of Sociology will be a highly-collaborative, accelerated minor program that allows students to earn the minor in a single summer. 

The program will build from the existing sociology minor by streamlining the courses to fit a fully online format. Sociology instructor Hanne van der lest, who is leading the project, says the revamped online courses will be the best of what the department has to offer, representing the faculty’s core research areas and optimizing the number of available instructors. 

Making this minor uniquely innovative is that all the courses will be formatted using a carefully standardized model. This way, students will spend less time adjusting to how each course operates and more time learning, says van der lest. Faculty will collaborate with graduate assistants and the Undergraduate Studies Committee to create sustainable and transferable course templates. 

Most undergraduate students can benefit from completing a sociology minor, particularly students planning to enter fields such as public health, psychology, exercise science, nursing, political science, business or medicine. Sociology students learn to apply newfound knowledge of social inequalities, interpersonal relations, social determinants of health, empathetic leadership and more in their lives and careers. 

The McCausland award funding will support van der lest and other faculty plus graduate assistants as they convert existing courses to the most efficient model. It will also help purchase necessary equipment for creating the revised digital content necessary for instruction. 

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