A headline in the special Education Life section of the New York Times says it all:  “The Master’s as the New Bachelor’s.” Thanks to a stalled economy and high unemployment, more and more people are camping out in graduate school, trying to improve their skills and increase employability in these tough times. “Nearly 2 in 25 people age 25 and over have a master’s, about the same proportion that had a bachelor’s or higher in 1960,” the Times reports – many of those degrees in fields so specialized they didn’t even exist a decade ago.  The Baltimore region is no exception; below, we profile a few intriguing master’s programs at local schools.  Intrigued? You’d better get those personal statements ready; application deadlines are coming up quickly!

Johns Hopkins University, MA in Medical and Biological Illustration
Quick – what does a spleen look like? If you picture something vaguely small and generically squishy, then you’re probably not one of the 4-6 multi-talented individuals admitted to this two-year, cross-disciplinary program each year.  Celebrating its hundredth anniversary in 2011, the Department of Art as Applied to Medicine prepares students to create  “illustrations, animations, and graphic design for the medical, research and publishing communities.” Prospective applicants must have a background in both the hard sciences (general chemistry, anatomy, physiology) and the arts (life drawing, graphic design, and/or computer illustration). While in the program, students take courses like “Operating Room Sketching,” “Medical Sculpture,” “Illustrating Anatomy,” “3D Modeling & Animation.”  The program’s anaplastology clinic teaches students to create lifelike medical prosthetics for patients. After graduation, they’re poised to illustrate textbooks, create instructional videos, and otherwise occupy the intersection between medicine and art.

Maryland Institute College of Art, MPS in Information Visualization
     Just as Hopkins’ medical illustration program was the first in its country when it was instituted in 1911, MICA’s prospective information visualization degree will be the only one in the U.S. when it starts up in 2012. In addition to artists and graphic designers, the degree is intended to appeal to “professionals in fields where the management of complex data through visualization is essential–including architecture, urban planning, homeland security, strategic planning, health, social networks” and others. As our world becomes more and more dense with information, someone’s got to make all those graphs, charts, and animations that help us parse all that data. This is the program for those people.

Participants won’t have to be Baltimore-based, either; the 14-month long program will follow the low-residency model, meaning that aside from a few five-day stints on campus, the rest of the coursework will be completed remotely. Some of the subjects taught in these virtual classrooms will touch on neurology (Visual Cognition and Perception); math (Statistics and Multivariate Data Analysis for Information Visualization); and, of course, design (Visual Analytics; Principles of Interface Design).  Why a MPS instead of an MA? The PS (which stands for “professional studies”) tends to indicate a degree that focusses on applied skills and experiential learning – something that clearly applies to this emerging program.

Goucher College, MA in Cultural Sustainability
Another new program that takes advantage of the low-residency model – this one requiring only two on-campus weeks for each of its two years. And those two weeks may well include field trips (!); recent classes explored not only Baltimore, but also the Eastern Shore and downtown Philadelphia.

But those field trips weren’t just for fun and adventure, of course; studying cultural sustainability means taking a hard, close look at the artistic, linguistic, economic, and environmental resources of a particular place, so actually going somewhere is key. Students are expected to approach a particular community they care about deeply (“whether it be an African village, an American inner-city neighborhood, a remote tribe in Asia, or a threatened public space just down the street”) and identify, protect, and enhance its particular traditions. This is a program that works against globalization – or works against its ickier, homogenizing aspects at least – with a cross-disciplinary approach that draws from  anthropology, history, folklore, ethnomusicology, communications, business and management, and linguistics, among others. There’s even a class called “Festivals”! (Students also learn about fundraising and grant writing; mobilizing social networks; and engaging in field work.) And the low-residency model means that the faculty hails from Goucher’s own departments, as well as people like the director of the Virginia Folklife Program; the director of exhibitions at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History; and the folklife specialist in the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.

Towson University, MA in Jewish Communal Service
This one’s pretty straightforward:  it’s a degree that prepares students for careers as leaders in the Jewish community. Towson is one of only a few secular schools to offer the degree, which is bolstered by the university’s strong Judaic studies program and the Baltimore Hebrew Institute.

Students have to have a solid basis in Hebrew – either modern or Biblical – before they can graduate; other required classes provide a grounding in Jewish history, literature, and religious tradition (“Introduction to Jewish Thought and Mysticism,” “Jewish Law and Ethics,” “Diaspora Jewish Communities”), as well as contemporary issues. The “communal service” part means that degree candidates are also expected to get a solid background in professional skills, including leadership, management, and handling material resources.

But it’s not all classroom work, either. Before getting a degree, students have to complete at least 600 hours at an internship related to their coursework. Luckily, the school has lots of connections with local (and D.C.-based) organizations, including non-profit agencies, synagogues, community centers, and day schools.