Students in the healthcare management niche area will take coursework in healthcare administration, public policy and data analysis, and community health—courses that will prepare them to successfully transition into a leadership role in either the public or private sector that serves the healthcare industry.

“UTSA’s ability to regularly launch new niche areas is an excellent example of the university’s ability to be nimble and work collaboratively across multiple colleges and units to increase our students’ accessibility to fields of the future,” said Heather Shipley, senior vice provost for academic affairs and dean of University College. “We are proud that our Multidisciplinary Studies program is preparing Roadrunners to enter some of today’s most in-demand career fields.”

The University College’s first set of niche areas, which were launched in fall 2020, included artificial intelligence, cyber intelligence, data science, geoinformatics, neuroscience and nursing.

This past fall, the college launched a new set of prescribed niche areas, including applied data science, film and media studies, hospitality and events management, and strategic defense and leadership.

Similar in concept to a startup incubator for companies, the University College takes a collaborative approach to growing new niche areas with the support they need to be successful. In some cases, success might mean that the niche area is viable enough to become a standalone degree program. For example, the neuroscience niche area was able to transition into the College of Sciences and is now being offered as a B.S. in Neuroscience.

“One great thing about the niche areas is that we can be responsive to student interest and tailor the path accordingly,” said Rebecca Schroeder, assistant dean of the University College and associate professor of instruction in the Academic Inquiry and Scholarship program.

New niche areas are created based on a combination of factors. The University College leadership team monitors various sources to see which industries are experiencing significant growth and then determine whether UTSA offers sufficient coursework to create a multidisciplinary degree plan that would give students a competitive advantage in the marketplace.

For example, the hospitality and events management niche area was created to address workforce needs in San Antonio, which is one of the nation’s top travel destinations. According to a recent economic impact study, the tourism and hospitality industry employs one in eight workers locally and is one of the city’s top economic producers. In addition to courses in management and human resources, communications, logistics and planning, this program includes coursework within the focused area of cultural enrichment and an internship with an events management organization.

New niche areas are also created based on student demand. For example, students in the current data science certificate program voiced their desire for an applied data science degree program. The University College was able to expand the certificate’s offerings and launch it as one of the new incubator programs. The program allows students to take coursework in data science, math computing and business analytics and then apply what they’ve learned to solve complex problems in one of three specialized domains—cyber intelligence, digital humanities or political science.

The niche area in strategic defense and leadership was designed specifically for the university’s ROTC students. According to University College leadership, ROTC students had expressed interest in a leadership program that would be applicable both during and after service in the military.

While University College creates and administers the programs, the college relies on UTSA’s other academic colleges to offer the coursework.

“The MDST niche programs take university-wide collaboration,” acknowledged Jianwei Niu, associate dean of University College and a computer science professor in the College of Sciences. “None of the programs would be successful without the colleges that are offering the coursework and are willing to partner with us to allow our students to be enrolled in their programs.”


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