Media arts students will have expanded employment opportunities thanks to a new degree program at Highlands University.

The new Master of Fine Arts degree in media arts and cultural technology is the first terminal degree in Highlands University’s history. A terminal degree is the highest degree awarded in a particular field.

“Because this MFA is a terminal degree, the most significant impact for our graduates is that they will be prepared for faculty positions at four-year universities as well as management jobs,” said Kerry Loewen, chair of the Media Arts and Technology Department. “Our MFA graduates will be well versed in the growing demand museums and other cultural institutions have for new technologies for digital imaging, 3D modeling and printing, digital archiving, digitizing collections, and more.”

Loewen said the students will hone their creative talents and technological skills through on-the-job internships that will prepare them to contribute to New Mexico’s growing cultural and creative economy.

“Service learning is a core component of this MFA. Internships also make it twice as likely our graduates will get jobs in cultural technology,” Loewen said.

There are only three other comparable media arts programs in the United States at the University of Denver, University of California – Santa Cruz, and Arizona State University. All these programs have much higher tuition costs than Highlands.

“New Mexico has a rich cultural history that we have to preserve for future generations,” said New Mexico Higher Education Secretary Barbara Damron. “This new MFA program will not only expand opportunities for students at Highlands and throughout New Mexico, but give them the skills they need to be effective stewards of our state’s legacy. This program creates a pool of highly skilled cultural technologists and provides internships for every student.”

The New Mexico Board of Finance approved the MFA in media arts and cultural technology in a unanimous vote Nov. 17. Highlands is submitting the new MFA to the Higher Learning Commission, the university’s accrediting agency, for approval.

“Highlands is the right choice for students seeking academic excellence, small class sizes, and affordable tuition. Our New Mexico students will not need to leave the state for their MFA,” Loewen said.

“With the addition of this MFA in media arts and cultural technology to our curricular portfolio, we join other top schools offering high-quality terminal degrees to students throughout the world,” said Highlands University President Sam Minner. “I cannot say enough about Secretary Barbara Damron’s advocacy and support for this MFA.”

Longtime media arts professor Miriam Langer said the new MFA will give its graduates the opportunity to have a significant impact when they begin their professional life.

“With this MFA, our graduates can have a greater level of influence in determining how technology is used in cultural and educational contexts,” Langer said. “Our MFA students will be doing original, cutting-edge research in all areas of employing emerging technologies to reach museum visitors. We expect Highlands and our MFA students to have a highly visible presence locally, nationally and worldwide for how technology is applied in gallery environments.”

Langer said the new MFA program will build upon a strong 10-year partnership between Highlands and the New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs. The partnership places paid interns in museums and cultural institutions throughout the state as part of the university’s one-of-a-kind AmeriCorps Cultural Technology program directed by Lauren Addario.

Highlands also has a Program in Interactive Cultural Technology, or PICT. It is a semester-long intensive class project where students develop new multimedia exhibits for clients like the Coronado Historic Site and the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science.

“The driving ethos of the Media Arts Program is to use technology with careful and considered intent to produce meaningful projects for cultural institutions, something the new MFA will advance,” Langer said.

Loewen said a new state-of-the-art media arts facility in the historic Trolley Building in Las Vegas will open fall semester 2016.

“With this new facility, we can offer our students an exceptional learning environment, and compete with any media arts school in the nation. It was designed with the MFA in mind, including dedicated graduate facilities,” Loewen said.

He said the successful MFA bid was a collaborative effort that spanned five years and involved media arts faculty, the university’s administration, and the Las Vegas community.