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College studies changing

April 24, 2006|by TIFFANY ARNOLD

When they reached the "nightmare" of the Florida Everglades, Frostburg State University students had to weave their canoes through a mushy maze of mangroves.

The vegetation grew so thick that the waterway was impassable at low tide.

Still, that portion of the Everglades, known as the "nightmare," was one of many challenges the adventure sports students looked forward to conquering.

It was part of the day's lecture.

With hordes of high school students filling out college applications this time of year, researchers say more and more of them likely will lean toward unconventional degree programs, such as the adventure sports concentration offered at Frostburg.

"Just from a personal observation, these things go in trends," said Helen Szablya, spokeswoman for the Maryland Higher Education Commission.

"The '80s were very, very driven. People went to college with a very specific degree in mind.

"But now, especially with the low unemployment rates, people are looking to having multiple careers," Szablya said. "I'm a product of the '70s, when people went to college seeking a well-rounded education. We're seeing that trend come back now."

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Unique degrees are popping up at schools statewide.

Students from Frostburg routinely visit the Florida Everglades to fulfill part of the requirements for the adventure sports concentration, offered to the university's Recreation and Park Management majors, said Robert Kauffman, chairman of the Recreation and Park Management department.

Kauffman said the program teaches back-country living skills, but students learn more than how to survive the Western Maryland terrain.

"It's experiential learning," Kauffman said. "Learning by doing. The students also take on leadership roles on the trips."

On one trip, they went camping, "basically out in the middle of nowhere in West Virginia," said adventure sports student William Siegrist, 20.

They spent the night in the woods with only the clothes on their backs, Siegrist said.

"It was really cold that night," he said.

At Shippensburg (Pa.) University, art students can spend a year in New York City studying fashion through a cooperative agreement with the Fashion Institute of Technology.

Salisbury (Md.) University offers a major in conflict resolution.

Things that once were viewed as hobbies are now degree-worthy due to the changing job market, analysts say.

Hagerstown Community College students can get a two-year degree in simulation and design entertainment - learning how to make video games.

Scott Stevens, a 19-year-old gaming major at HCC, is studying Nintendo's original Super Mario Bros. He also has acquired his mother's old COLECO and Atari game systems for the sake of study.

His final project is due in two weeks. Right now, he's working on a game featuring a knight who must kill medieval monsters, destroy a trebuchet that hurls rocks at him and seize a castle.

"I have to get it so that each time the person presses 'A' on the keyboard, he swings his sword," Stevens said.

A similar program is offered at Howard and Montgomery community colleges and the Community College of Baltimore County, Essex campus.

Each is designed to align with programs at four-year schools, state school officials said.

Members of local teenage rock groups are trying to move beyond their garage-band status by getting certificates in recording engineering and business management.

Mychael Wright, lead vocalist for rock band Inshalla, attends night classes at the Omega Studios' School of Applied Recording Arts and Sciences in Rockville, Md.

"I hope to bring back what I've learned to the band," said Wright, 18, of Hagers-town.

Omega Studios offers a 550-hour track in audio production. The program is accredited by the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges of Technology.

Researcher Joe Marks said that over the last 10 years, more students are opting for degrees such as English and philosophy, ones that aren't directly tied to a specific career after graduation.

"With those kinds of majors, there isn't really a clear answer to that question: 'What will you do after graduation?'" Marks said.

Marks monitors educational trends for the Southern Regional Education Board, a network of 16 state-level higher education systems, including Maryland and West Virginia.

He said years of studies show that business and education degrees, which used to be the most popular, are giving away to broader humanities degrees.

The Maryland Higher Education Commission approves new degree programs in part based on their relevance to state and regional interests, said Regina Lightfoot, MHEC's director of planning and policy.

Lightfoot said adventure sports would be of particular interest in Western Maryland because backpacking, camping and canoeing are a lucrative part of the culture.

Siegrist said that his friends and family sometimes wonder what he's going to do after graduation. But he said they get a clearer picture after he explains that the program prepares him to do anything from running a city's parks and recreation department to leading hiking tours in the mountains.

"To me, I see it as a real marketable major," said Siegrist, who is originally from South Carolina. "After I graduate, I can find a job anywhere in the country."

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