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Envisioning a future with more art, science and design

by Jennifer Johnson,

Willamette University is growing in new ways this year. 

The university’s merger with Pacific Northwest College of Art in Portland builds on recent program expansion at Willamette, resulting in a greater array of academic options that better serve students, the needs of employers and still address “the kinds of problems that we need to solve as a human race,” said Provost and Senior Vice President Carol Long

“We’re looking at places where a professional education and an arts and science education interact — like public health and data science, where combined degrees cross boundaries — so we can give students the best start to their career while still maintaining our liberal arts core,” she said. 

PNCA introduces 19 new undergraduate and graduate options for Willamette students to explore, spanning animated arts, printmaking, video and sound and collaborative design. For students who seek a more self-directed and flexible advanced degree, the college offers low residencies in creative writing and visual studies and a studio-based post-baccalaureate residency.  

The merger follows a period of new program development at Willamette. Since 2018, the university has created eight undergraduate degrees and minors that cover the fields of public health, global cultural studies and sustainability, among others. The graduate schools have expanded their offerings as well — this year, Atkinson Graduate School of Management’s MBA for Professionals program moved to a larger space in downtown Portland to accommodate more students, while the College of Law added a sixth certificate program to its roster and formed a partnership with Western Oregon University in Monmouth to make it easier for WOU students to attend the law school. 

Enrollment this fall reflected the new growth. With the addition of PNCA, the college’s new masters and certificate programs in data science, and strong enrollment at Willamette Law and AGSM, Willamette welcomed 678 new undergraduate and graduate students to its campuses in Salem and Portland, the university’s highest enrollment since 2017. 

Plans for hybrid programs to serve new and future students are taking shape, said Long. One of the largest in development is the creation of a new school of computation and data science, in addition to a master’s degree combining design with computer science and an undergraduate degree that applies design strategies to data visualization. 

Within the arts, the two institutions are considering an accelerated BA/MFA for creative writing, as well as a way to mix PNCA’s master of arts in critical studies — a program that explores critical race theory, feminist theory and post-colonial theory among others — with Willamette’s English, art history or other programs. Possibilities for museum-related studies at the graduate and undergraduate level are likely, too, with access now to Willamette’s Hallie Ford Museum of Art and PNCA’s curated and student-run galleries.  

Anna Miltenberger, dean of admissions at PNCA, said she’s thrilled the strong incoming class will have access to the breadth of curricular offerings at Willamette. 

As an art education advocate, she said, “I believe this partnership will vastly enhance our contribution to the vibrancy of our region and beyond.” 

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