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Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Professional Science program put on hold

The Professional Science master’s degree program has seen its federal funding dry up and its existence put on hold, but hopes remain that the future might bring reinstitution as a University program with University funding.

Dr. Kevin Malloy, director of the PSM program during its existence, said the program operated for five years on National Science Foundation funding in the form of fellowships covering full expenses of education for students during their time in the program.

This five-year period was established as a concrete runtime for the program from the beginning, and the PSM program stopped admitting new students in the spring of 2013, Malloy said.

The program was set up as a joint program between the Nanoscience and Microsystems Program at the University and the Anderson School of Management.

The goal of the program was to make the Master of Science degree more useful for students so that it didn’t have to be a research degree and could give science students a pathway into business and industry, Malloy said.

“One of the strongest industries in New Mexico is actually entrepreneurship and innovation, and a lot of our graduates end up going on to work for small- and medium-sized companies that are just getting started,” Malloy said. “(The graduates) end up starting their own companies themselves.”

Roughly half of the students who graduated from the program decided to stay and pursue their doctorates, and the other half went on to work for commercial entities such as Intel, Sandia Labs or Los Alamos Labs, Malloy said.

However, if the Professional Science master’s program is to return as a University program, it will first have to go through the Budget Leadership Team, according to Carol Parker, senior vice provost, in an email statement. Such a request for funding has not been seen on the team’s list of requests yet, she said.

Once the request is received, it will be analyzed against other requests for the given year in order to assess whether it is an initiative that the University can and/or will financially support, and for how long funding will be given, Parker said.

“In any given budget cycle, whether new funds are awarded and whether they will be awarded for shorter or longer time periods is entirely dependent upon how well they fit into UNM’s strategic goals and how much competition there is from other initiatives for scarce resources,” she said.

However, programs that already have infrastructure built by previous outside funding and have already been established are more likely to receive University funding, Parker said.

“A program that develops a solid footing during its development stage, including proving that sufficient student interest exists, is much more likely to be able to transition to permanent funding, regardless of whether they remain partially subsidized to some extent, or are able to operate solely on the revenue they generate,” she said.

Noel Dawson, fourth year doctoral student in the Nanoscience and Microsystems Department, was one of the PSM program graduates to stay at UNM in pursuit of a doctorate. The program was instrumental in offering him a different perspective on education and career choices, he said.

“It exposes you to a whole new, different world,” Dawson said. “You know, as a scientist you’re not really used to dealing with the business side of things, but experiencing the business side prepares you to start companies, or if you’re going to work in a company to be a managerial-level employee.”

Dawson plans to try to start a business of his own at some point after graduation, and he said he does not think it will be quite as difficult after the program. If the program were to successfully return it would be good news for both the University as well as the state, he said.

“I think the University would benefit, but not just the University,” Dawson said. “I think New Mexico itself would benefit. I know a lot of people who graduated my year, and the following year tried to start their own business. (The program) really motivated us to start businesses, which is good for the economy here in New Mexico, and it’s good for the University because the University can say, ‘Look at all these spinoffs that came out of our technology collection.’”

Zach Pavlik is assistant news editor at the Daily Lobo. Contact him at assistant-news@dailylobo.com or via Twitter @zachpavlik.