News & Features Feedback
New This WeekAround TownMusicFilmArtTheaterNews & FeaturesFood & DrinkAstrology

  E-Mail This Article to a Friend
Off the beaten path
From ocean engineering to forensics, area schools have plenty of non-traditional education options to keep you learning

A few decades back, "underwater basket-weaving" somehow entered our cultural lexicon as shorthand for unusual courses offered by universities. It was always said with scorn, implying that anything slightly off the beaten ivy path was a waste of time and money. The concept became such universal joke fodder that most people probably never even realized that the phrase doesnít mean what it sounds like; no, thereís no pool involved. Itís a legitimate term for a simple weaving method, in which the reeds themselves are submerged. But only someone passionate about the craft would know.

Thatís not a bad parallel for some of the more unusual programs offered by area colleges and universities. Though your average wise guy might immediately begin a comic riff about, say, Boston Universityís Diploma Wine Program, that reaction is based on ignorance. Those who love wine know better. The same is true of the most distinctive academic programs, which tend to attract knowledgeable enthusiasts and would-be experts who have taken an interest in something that very few of their peers have. These students arenít crazy or misguided; theyíre just passionate and individualistic.

For anyone seeking to stray from the standard path and tread more interesting routes, here are 10 unique area programs. Ranging in length from one week to just over two years, these programs offer a variety of options, for those seeking a full degree or just a one-of-a-kind educational experience.

Eat, drink, and do pairings

Boston Universityís description of its Wine Certificate Course and Diploma Wine Program is almost apologetic in tone, managing to pre-empt any moralistic concerns by defining wine "as a beverage which, when consumed in moderation, can be part of a healthy and enjoyable lifestyle." Once it has disposed of all notions that this program simply involves red-faced sots drinking themselves under the table, itís free to extol the scholarly virtues of "viticulture" and "enology" (dear Lord, there are even fancy names for boozing), as well as the economics involved (including marketing), how to pair wine and food, and the "psychological, physiological, and cultural phenomena of wine consumption."

Beginners in this topic ó whether oneís interest is casual or career-related ó should start with the certificate course, which teaches basic tasting skills, of course, but also covers classification, storage, and serving. If that whets your appetite, you might consider the two-year commitment required for the diploma program, which intends to yield formidable experts. With instruction in the wines and spirits of the world, including all the classical grape varieties, students will develop sophisticated palates and learn to articulate the distinctive character of each beverage ó something they have to prove not only in writing, but also in tasting exams. (Cramming could be fun.)

Boston University Office of Special Programs, (617) 353-9852.

Ready for your close-up?

Admit it: when you see the cast of Friends lolling about and waiting kindly for each other to set up punch lines, it galls you to realize that theyíre doing their jobs. Maybe youíre sure you could do what they do even better (oh yes, aim high!). But you canít start at the top ó you need clips from work in ads, industrials, and the like to show that you know your way around the bright lights. Then you can move on to become the next Chandler Bing. Youíll have a semester to lay the groundwork and discover whether you have what it takes, if you take advantage of Emerson Collegeís open-enrollment course in Acting: Performance for Television.

Of course, before you can feel comfortable enough to stand before the sit-com lights, youíll need basic skills in acting within a studio setting. With an emphasis on personality and production, this course involves on-camera assignments ranging from public-service announcements to commercials, the results of which students may use for a clip reel when auditioning for actual gigs. Perhaps just as important, students receive training in basic studio operations, so that the process behind the scenes wonít seem so removed and mystifying. Then, with confidence-building experience and clips in hand, you can head out for that first audition.

Emerson College Division of Continuing Education, (617) 824-8280.

Up periscope

Itís a little disconcerting to visit the Web site for MITís Department of Ocean Engineering, which features a lovely waterside picture ó not of the ocean, but of the Charles River. (One hates to think of the smartest people in the world not noticing the difference.) But perhaps itís a metaphor: attend classes on this river, and youíll be well on your way to the sea. Whatever the case, the Professional Summer Program in Ocean Engineering attracts officers and civilian personnel for intense courses, some of which are classified. (No kidding; the students can say to you, "Sorry, thatís classified," and be telling the truth.)

Ship systems design, analysis and production, and naval technologies fill seven courses over the course of the summer (though you may select individual courses). The professors span the civilian/military gamut, with experience from the ivory tower to the tower of a gunship. Next yearís courses arenít yet posted, but last summer, offerings included such topics as submarine combat systems (hmm, subs in the Charles, maybe ...). In its 32nd year, this program carries with it a cachet in the military-technology community that would be hard to beat. And because it bears the name MIT, itís sure to be a door-opener for anyone in this industry.

MIT Department of Ocean Engineering, (617) 253-8125.

Paging Doctor Doolittle

Tufts University markets its Adventures in Veterinary Medicine for Adults program with the line, "Things are different for you." It means that the program is for adults who are looking at college again after working in the real world, but it could just as well refer to the fact that its applicants see the world differently than most. The Adventures candidate may be the woman who nurses a bird that flew into a neighborís windowpane, the man who cries when a horse dies in a movie, or anybody who keeps bringing home pets long after the house is full. Discovering whether that compassion could or should sustain a career is the goal for students in this program.

Panel discussions and lectures cover a range of topics, including equine sports medicine, emergency medicine, and oncology. Part of the week includes one-on-one sessions with academic and financial advisers to help students evaluate their options. The most popular element of the program is that enrollees "shadow" fourth-year veterinary students through clinical and surgical rotations. Observing the anesthetization of a bunny is the kind of perspective a textbook just canít offer. How well students hold their lunches, or how eagerly they take in the details, may well reveal what they need to know: is this the field for them?

Tufts University Office of Special Programs, (508) 839-7962.

House of style

Step into a clothing store and you might not immediately spot the difference between a floor clerk and the visual coordinator ó both might be seen lingering near piles of attractively folded apparel. But the visual coordinator is the one giving the orders, and the clerk is the one doing the folding (for a whole lot less money). In fact, most of the jobs one might get with a fashion-merchandising degree from Bay State College involve the ability to go unseen, while still commanding the view of others. Whether a student wants to tell a store what to buy for the fall season, or to run the store herself, this might well be the place to start.

Students may choose to take individual courses or to pursue an entire two-year degree; courses explore fashion-oriented approaches to marketing, purchasing, and visual display. The programís graduates have gone on to work as buyers, store managers, visual-display coordinators, and special-events managers for companies including Saks, Guess, and Nike. You may very well have admired their handiwork and never even known ó just as they intended.

Bay State College School of Fashion, (617) 236-8000.

A model future

Some majors are just amorphous enough to allow for a range of quasi-legitimate applications (like English as pre-med, or pre-law for teaching or writing). But outside the liberal arts, fields tend to be more specialized, so you want your degree to match your career path. This is especially true for fields like architecture, which requires an apprenticeship, furthering your time commitment before you ever earn a penny.

With that in mind, Harvard Design School offers the six-week Career Discovery Program in Architecture and Design. Advanced professionals and educators offer lectures, drawing classes, and computer workshops, which supplement tutored design studios and career counseling. Whether one is in college, or is a working adult considering a career change, the program helps illuminate the practical elements of architecture, landscape architecture, urban planning, and design ó before one commits to years of study and internships.

Harvard Design School, (617) 496-8306.

You are the profiler

When CSI took television by storm a couple of seasons ago, it reinvented the cop-show formula, making "Who did it?" a secondary issue to "How was it done?" The viewing public is fascinated by the kind of work explored in the Forensics Services Certificate Program at the University of Massachusetts Boston. Intended for people who work in the criminal-justice or mental-health professions, this graduate certificate program provides an overview of criminal investigation, social-science research, and the law.

Students focus on behavioral sciences, while developing competencies in mental health and criminal justice. This teaches them to imagine a personís psychology and behavioral patterns as they affect not only a given case, but also that personís treatment or incarceration thereafter. The actual job may not be quite as glamorous as it appears on TV, but itís no less fascinating. Students will discover this for themselves during field observation, which puts into practice the things they learn in class.

University of Massachusetts Boston Division of Continuing Education, (617) 287-7913.

Thereís something deeply egalitarian about an art school that lets students work on an advanced degree without first having completed an art degree. Operating on the premise that a body of work ó not a diploma ó defines an artist, the School of the Museum of Fine Arts offers the individualized Post-Baccalaureate Certificate in Studio Arts. No matter what your academic background ó from mechanical engineering to French literature ó if you have your bachelorís degree, the school will consider you; the only catch is that your diploma must be accompanied by a damn fine portfolio of your work in any medium

And if the school is going to ignore academic tradition on the way in, it might as well ignore convention during the program itself. Instead of taking graded courses, students receive credit at the end of a term only after the semesterís yield is presented before a review board of faculty and peers. (Students must also sit on a review board for someone else, which hones their critical thinking.) Combining hands-on studio time, gallery excursions, and critiquing, the program is intended to prepare artists for continued work inside or outside academia, and to foster the discipline to pursue that work. Students leave with a body of already-juried work, which will make a memorable calling card as they launch their careers.

School of the Museum of Fine Arts, (617) 369-3626.

Every other year, Simmons College offers the Center for the Study of Childrenís Literature Symposium, attracting educators, librarians, and professionals who work with children or in publishing. Weíre not talking people sitting around regaling each other with witty Dr. Seuss renditions here, but rather, people who take childrenís literature very seriously, studying it for graduate credit or simply to fulfill a personal passion.

Each symposium selects a single theme from childrenís lit to unite a series of book discussions, lectures, colloquia, and in-service teacher workshops. Past topics have included the construct of time in childrenís books and 21st-century depictions of children. The symposium intends to reinforce the "social, historic, and psychological importance of quality literature" for kids. It does this in part by bringing in a weighty roster of those who have won Newbury and Caldecott Medals (the two major awards in childrenís lit), as well as local authors and child psychologists.

Center for the Study of Childrenís Literature at Simmons, (617) 521-2540.

Anesthetists are the unsung heroes of medicine. Surgeons get all the glory (unless they run off to the ATM during a procedure), but they couldnít operate on patients (and most of us wouldnít let them) without the aid of anesthesia. The good folks who administer the precise doses of anesthesia ó enough to knock you out, but not enough to kill you ó are just as responsible for any happy medical outcome. But with less fame, their ranks havenít been swelling, so Boston College recently responded to the dwindling numbers in the region with the creation of the Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist Program, kicking off in January.

This isnít for just anybody ó itís intended for nurses who already have a BS. (I mean, do you really want Berklee students improvising your morphine dosage?) In little more than two years, each participant designs and completes an individualized program that combines study and practice. This workload is intended to prepare them to sit for nurse-anesthetist boards, ideally culminating in licensure and a masterís. And with more than 60 percent of all anesthetic protocols administered by nurses, they are sure to be in high demand.

Boston College School of Nursing, (617) 552-4928.

David Valdes Greenwood can be reached at

Some call it art

Issue Date: November 14 - 21, 2002
Back to the News & Features table of contents.
  E-Mail This Article to a Friend

home | feedback | about the phoenix | find the phoenix | advertising info | privacy policy | the masthead | work for us

 © 2002 Phoenix Media Communications Group