Volume 16 • Issue 32 | January 9 - 15, 2004

Masters in disaster are the latest degree

By Erin Bruehl

Learning by doing has been part of the Metropolitan College of New York’s philosophy for 40 years, and starting this year, students will get a chance to apply the Emergency and Disaster Management skills they learn in the newest program to the communities around them.

The school’s method, which they call “purpose-centered,” goes back to the 1970s and Audrey Cohen, the college’s founder. She introduced an experiential way of learning that linked what students learn in the classroom to the professional environment.

Starting in 2004, its fortieth anniversary year, the school, which used to be known as Audrey Cohen College, is going to begin offering a Master of Public Administration in Emergency and Disaster Management, perhaps the first program of its kind in the country. It is a one-year program, spanning three semesters. Greenwald says it is a response to a need that they saw as residents of Lower Manhattan.

“Sept. 11 was the impetus,” he said. “We’re not far from ground zero. The idea came from the faculty in the graduate school of public education. They saw the need for a program for preventive and emergency services.”

The education covers the planning, management, logistics, response, relief, recovery, and economics of public emergencies and disasters. Each student will also develop a comprehensive emergency management plan for the organization where he or she is working. Above all, the program will provide students with skills in identifying needs, preparedness, service delivery systems, impact on communities, decision-making, and ethics.

At M.C.N.Y., students create a purpose each semester around which they base their program and work towards achieving mastery in that specific area. Each semester the undergraduates also plan and carry out an improvement based on their purpose, called a Constructive Action, at their workplace. The graduates have one constructive action that they work on implementing throughout their three semesters.

Stephen R. Greenwald, president of M.C.N.Y. since October 1999, says the school’s philosophy is ideal for working professionals.

“We think it is a very powerful way to learn, particularly for those who have been out of school for awhile. It is a major undertaking. The purpose-centered model is linking learning to the workplace and it demonstrates growth to both students and their employers while they are still in school,” he said.

Greenwald himself finished college and went to law school while he was working, which is one reason why he was attracted to the college and its mission.

The college opened in 1964 as the Women’s Talent Corps and has continued to be based on experiential learning. Renamed Audrey Cohen College in 1992, it changed names once again in October 2002 to Metropolitan College of New York in response to a shift to focusing on urban issues, as Greenwald said that many students are from the metropolitan area and are working on solving problems facing New York City’s citizens. The college has also been innovative in terms of plans for higher education.

“The college is performing an important function in the city and state,” Greenwald said. “A lot of colleges now have service learning [doing things in the community for credit] that we have been doing for 40 years.”

M.C.N.Y. enrolls about 1,700 students per year, and has semesters in the fall, spring, and summer. About 1,000 of those students attend the main college at 75 Varick St. and the rest attend centers in the Bronx, Queens, and Staten Island.

Most students are people in their 30s, returning to school to pursue their master’s degrees or beginning their undergraduate work for the first time.

“By the end of the six year equivalent, about 65% of our students have graduated,” Greenwald said. “That is consistent with national averages.”

Their biggest and most popular programs are the bachelor’s degree program in human services (BPS) and the Bachelor’s of Business Administration. The masters program in public administration is one of the largest in the country with about 250 students.

The college has plans for more expansion in 2004. M.C.N.Y. is planning to launch a Masters of Science in Childhood Education in September; a Bachelor’s degree in Urban Studies, their first liberal arts degree; as well as an M.B.A. in Wine and Spirits Management.

“We work around their lives, with evening classes and we have several locations,” said Greenwald It is a wonderful way to learn, the power of the model, not just the convenience.”


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