Mark R. Nemec

Mark R. Nemec joined the Graham School as dean in 2014. (Photo courtesy the Graham School)

Extending inquiry and impact

With new programs and online tools, Mark R. Nemec, dean of the Graham School of Continuing Liberal and Professional Studies, hopes to reach broad audiences in innovative ways.

When William Rainey Harper became the founding president of the University of Chicago, he spearheaded a radical experiment predicated on the belief that higher learning should be marked by research, not recitation; by extension, not insularity.

Central to this experiment was a commitment to lifelong learning—an effort, as he said, to “reach those who lived beyond campus and did not fall into established categories of students.” In Harper’s view, continuing education was crucial in helping to create “a community in which interest in a higher education is widely spread.”

From the outset, the University Extension—now known as the Graham School of Continuing Liberal and Professional Studies—broadened the University’s impact far beyond Chicago, ultimately creating a worldwide community of teachers and learners.

At the time of UChicago’s founding, the forces of urbanization, globalization, and technology drove the creation of the modern university. Today these and demographic forces are combining to redefine higher education once again. The University of Chicago was a model of the 20th century university, and Graham is committed to supporting its efforts to be a model of the 21st century institution as well.

The Graham School builds on Harper’s vision for the modern university. Our fundamental belief is that the University’s eminence is enhanced by furthering our inquiry and impact with ever broader audiences in ever more innovative ways.

We extend the reach of the University through professional studies programs in newly emerging, multidisciplinary fields. Over the past year, our master’s in analytics program saw the graduation of its initial cohort, whose capstone projects have received accolades in venues from innovation competitions to academic conferences. Additionally, our newly established master’s in biomedical informatics program welcomed its first students this March, including physicians and staff from the UChicago Medicine. By bringing theory and practice together for working individuals, our professional programs seek to have a pronounced impact upon both the students and their professions.

We span the range of education to offer new entry points for learning. Graham’s summer session helps high school students prepare for their transition into higher education by offering them not only a collegiate experience but also unique thematic programs that range from laboratory experience in biology to critical thinking in the liberal arts. Recognizing that not everyone’s academic journey is linear, our Graduate Student-at-Large program serves as a bridge for students who are looking to shift to programs far afield from their undergraduate area of study: the art history major looking to attend business school or the computer science major wishing to pursue a PhD in English literature.

We support the tradition of rigorous inquiry for diverse audiences in the liberal arts. Celebrating its 70th year, the Basic Program of Liberal Education for Adults continues to embody President Hutchins’s vision of the “great conversation” based upon the close reading of seminal texts. Graham has expanded upon this vision by offering Basic Program alumni sequences around areas of particular interest as well as developing a master of liberal arts, which offers adults the opportunity to learn from the University’s leading faculty in humanities and the social, physical, and biological sciences.

We experiment by exploring, developing, and implementing new modalities and approaches to teaching and learning. Graham serves as an instrument of innovation in areas of University-wide strategic importance, with a particular emphasis on online pedagogy and digital engagement. Most notably in this regard, we have partnered with Alumni Relations and Development to launch UChicago AlumniU. Having begun with alumni-exclusive sections of massive open online courses (MOOCs), we intend AlumniU to advance the University’s engagement of constituent communities digitally. From online classes to career advice to live discussions with faculty, AlumniU will provide a lifelong learning home for UChicago’s alumni and supporters, regardless of distance or time.

Though diverse, all of these offerings are unified by Graham’s commitment to combine the scholarly rigor on which the University’s reputation was built with progressive programming designed to meet students’ ongoing needs. We serve as a bridge for students and also offer programs to which alumni return throughout their lives. As a result, Graham School students’ time at the University of Chicago is not experienced as simply a moment of study but rather as the joining of an academic community that will serve as an intellectual destination for years to come.

Updated 09.22.2016 to reflect the renaming of the UChicago online learning community from Continuum to AlumniU.