Master of Arts in Liberal Studies

Varner Hall, Room 512A
371 Varner Drive
Rochester, MI 48309-4485
(location map)
(248) 370-2154

Student Profile

Student Profile

Professional people, business people, home workers, community leaders, journalists, artists and retirees from many fields have completed MALS degrees across the country.  Secondary education teachers working in the humanities and social and natural sciences also find the program uniquely suited to them.

While not focused on a single academic discipline or having a specific vocational objective, the MA in Liberal Studies degree can strengthen students in their fields, complement their professional training and further their professional development.  
Oakland University's MALS program began in 2004 and currently has over forty students enrolled.

Erin Johnson

“In school we learn a lot of history about the time after World War I and World War II, but  after the destruction of the Berlin Wall, there wasn’t much said.  Everything in this class was new to me and I really learned a lot.”

Lori Heublein
We in the MALS program are thinking outside the box,” says Lori Heublein (MALS Graduate 2009), and that should really impress everyone.  We are taught by professors who take on an extra load of planning a single interdisciplinary class that (in itself) is ‘outside the box.’ The breadth of classes is phenomenal and the variety outstanding.  And everyone in the program is so supportive.

I would never have taken a class on politics, but couple it with literature and I was right there.  Who would think of putting ‘The Nuclear Age’ with religion? It was fascinating.  And I never thought I would take a class on China, but how could I not be intrigued by ‘The Silk Road’?

\Another bonus I found is the freedom we are given to explore ‘Out there’ ideas and still keep in the parameters of the class.  One art professor allowed me to compare the artist David to the composer Beethoven.  It was a stretch, but they were both transitional artists, just not in the same medium.  It was fun and challenging and I felt great when it was done – like I really had accomplished something. 
I’ll have to admit I was a bit hesitant about taking the Nuclear Age class. The Nuclear Age may have a definitive start with the Manhattan Project but there is no ending. This was a subject that, obviously, had no clear-cut answers, which made it scary but exciting to tackle at the same time. Within the class we went beyond talking about the schematics of a nuclear bomb. We talked about the conception of nuclear weapons and their influence on the past and the present. There were discussions of how these nuclear weapons were perceived by, not just the America government but also other world governments, such as Britain and Russia. We read books and articles, watched films, and debated the purposes of this powerful weapon. We may not have reached any earth shattering conclusions but I did come out of this class with an understanding of how the fast the world has changed with the discovery of nuclear power. For my part in the class I also had to give three smaller presentations throughout the semester along with my final paper.

I began with Henry L. Stimson’s, reasoning as to why the atomic bomb was used in 1945. Stimson was one of many key players in the bombing of Japan. This was a great primary source but as we found over the weeks in class there are many sides to a complex situation. My next two tasks were to look at a more worldly view of the nuclear bomb. I did a report on a group of British scientists, who formed the MAUD committee to discuss the “uranium problem.” It can be argued that it was this that pushed for the United States to complete the creation of a nuclear bomb. I also took a look at the World Court Project and their mission to end any making or use of the nuclear bomb. To this day there are organizations appealing to the United Nations and to the International Court of Justice to come to agreements concerning Nuclear weapons. 

For my final report I chose to look at the movie Good Night, Good Luck. The movie is not a bio-pic on Edward R. Murrow but a glimpse at one important moment of his life and a high point in the United States’ history of journalism. Ed Murrow was the first television reporter to speak out against the McCarthy hearings. In 2005 actors George Clooney and Grant Heslov wrote and directed a movie called Good Night, Good Luck. There are two major themes of the movie that I focused on. First it looks at the fear that infiltrated into the lives of many Americans during the 1950’s. Fear can be seen in the characters faces as they discuss what could happen to them if they were to be labeled communist. There is also the fear and tension that the audience experiences, knowing that the world had become a scary place for the characters in the movie and wondering if that fear would penetrate the walls of the CBS studio. There is also the theme of guilt by association. This idea surrounded the McCarthy hearings and Clooney never let the audience forget that. But the end of the movie shows how the news told in its honesty can affect a nation, not necessarily an over night affect but a gradual one. In the beginning McCarthy may have used the media, especially television, to play off the fear that embraced the American people but it could be argued that it was television that led to his eventual downfall. George Clooney and Grant Heslov set out not to take sides but to show us that we as Americans need to be told the truth and when we think we are not hearing it, it is ok to editorialize what is happening and to question our authorities’ actions just as Ed Murrow had.  

Jane Hellman
Jane Hellman recently completed her final project, earning her MALS degree. In this issue we are featuring an interview with Jane about her project entitled, “Personality Psychology and Russian Fiction: An Analysis of Tatyana Tolstaya’s Elderly Characters.” Brenda Bujold’s final project will be featured in our Winter 2011 issue.

What is your final project about?

As an interdisciplinary project my thesis includes the disciplines of psychology and literature. In particular, I focus on personality psychology and the process of aging by applying the six-foci theoretical framework regarding the development of personality to two elderly Russian women in short stories written by Tatyana Tolstaya. This involves explaining the various components within the framework and then correlating how they are manifested in the two characters.

What was the most challenging aspect of the project?

One of the greatest challenges (but also one of the most interesting aspects) was combining the two disciplines. Such a process requires the awareness of and adherence to the knowledge base of each discipline, but the endeavor also requires creativity in constructing a thesis that is inclusive but unique.

What did you learn, either about the subject or about yourself?

As an English major undergraduate I was always (and still am) impressed with how talented authors were able to understand and convey human behavior. This project has added to my knowledge about the specific elements of personality as put forth in a social science construct. Knowing these variables has aided in my awareness of how a writer creates realistic characters.

What advice do you have for your fellow MALS students as they think about and prepare for their final projects?

I would suggest that awareness of timing is critical. From proposal to completion the thesis-writing process is time-consuming, and one must also allow additional time for committee members to respond regarding suggested inclusions and revisions. If a student has an anticipated completion date, be prepared to extend that if necessary! It is also a challenge to balance the two disciplines, and to be certain that one discipline isn’t represented more than the other. This is where the committee members’ input was additionally so valuable.

Jane’s Committee Members were Prof. Deb McGinnis, Psychology, Chair; Prof. Jeff Insko, Department of English; and Prof. Tamara Jhashi, Department of Art and Art History.

Garth Glazier
Garth Glazier recently finished his final project and received his M.A. in December 2011.

What is the title of your final project?

“Where Have All the Giants Gone? A Study of the Aesthetic and Social Causes and Consequences of the Extinction of Three American Shade Trees.”

What is it about?

In this thesis project, I undertook a personal journey of discovery in the form of three creative non-fiction essays dealing with the disappearance of three culturally and economically significant native trees from our landscape. Specifically, I presented the stories of the American Chestnut, Elm, and Ash as part of a continuing narrative of extinction that has had an important meaning in my personal life, as well as a larger impact on our landscape and our culture. The writing style was in the form of three personal essays tracing the story of these extinctions in chronological form, starting with the American Chestnut, and proceeding forward with the American Elm, and ending with the American Ash. I saw the approach to this project as falling within a continuing tradition of American environmental writing as exemplified by the works of Henry David Thoreau, John Muir, John Burroughs, Bill McKibben, Michael Pollan, and others.

What was the most challenging aspect of the project?

The construction of these essays involved a balancing of personal revelations told in narrative form with more research-oriented material. The switching between these personal narratives (mine and that of other nature writers) and the factual data that supported my thesis was the tricky part. What I was most concerned about was achieving an important connection between my own personal story and the larger subject of the thesis in a way that felt natural and flowed well as a work of non-fiction literature. I believed that the meaning of my thesis could be achieved more effectively in this form than through the more conventional presentation of a thesis followed by supporting research.

Once I had read Aldo Leopold’s “A Sand County Almanac: And Sketches Here and There,” I understood how this fusion could be done. Leopold, who was among the first generation of ecologists in the 1950s, used the creative non-fiction form to impact the reader by creating a sense of personal connection with the landscape. By presenting my research in a narrative form, I hoped that the reader would become more aware of the deep sense of loss that individuals like myself and others have felt in the changes that are happening right outside our back doors. I also hoped that the reader would begin to see through the eyes of the storyteller, while considering the weight of factual information presented to establish the scope of destruction that has occurred.

What did you learn about the subject that is of particular interest?

I learned about memory—how fragile it is—and how that fragility seems to shape our very imperfect view of the natural world. In fact, I realized about halfway through this project that memory was the real focus of each essay. Because of this I included references to Washington Irving’s Rip Van Winkle, the Ann Frank Tree, and the famous Washington Elm as three interlinking references to the flexible nature of memory in forming new mythologies and in our modern resistance to the mounting evidence that our actions are reshaping the biomass of this planet.

What did you learn about yourself?

I learned that I have stories to tell and that act of telling it gives me great pleasure. I gave up a major in journalism for a major in art during college due to the steady mental decline of my father who was a talented crime reporter for the Detroit News. I feared that writing had played a role in his illness—especially since his idol was Ernest Hemmingway who also spiraled out of control late in life. I have now returned to writing.

What advice do you have for your fellow MALS students as they think about and prepare for their final projects?

After you have considered every practical option and every sensible idea for your thesis project throw them all out and take that one crazy thought you had back in your second or third class and run with it. My thesis idea grew directly out of a thirty-page essay I wrote in the two weeks after completing the Writers in the Garden course with Linda McCloskey. I was inspired and just started writing what became a memoir style essay about growing up next to the small patch of woods behind my house in St. Clair Shores. This essay called “Into the Green Wall,” became the core of my thesis project five years later and once I understood that this was my correct path (pun intended), my thesis project seemed to write itself.

What was your favorite MALS course and why?

The Writers in the Garden course with Linda McCloskey was my first and favorite course in the MALS program. It was the first course available when I signed up in spring of 2005 and I though it was just a nice survey of writers on the subject of gardening. When I received a copy of the syllabus in advance and realized the class was would focus on actually writing a series of essays in nonfiction form as a form of storytelling, I went nuts and read all the books before the first day of class and could not wait to start writing.

How has the MALS course of study changed you?

I have become a writer again and now believe that writing was probably my first and best talent, while art was my chosen skill by which I could make a living as an illustrator. I hope to publish my thesis through Wayne State University Press.

Many people have asked me what exactly can you do with this degree. Personally, I am using my masters to qualify for teaching positions at 4-year colleges and universities, which require at least a masters. While the MALS degree is not considered a stepping-stone to a terminal degree, it can be useful in raising your profile in the academic world. I have just taken a part-time position at Baker College and the extra degree was helpful. Many community colleges like Macomb are now requiring a masters for instructor positions and this gives me a distinct advantage in their program. I have also become a better instructor by observing the styles of the different professors in the program.

Angela Kayi
Following a true passion for learning and a love of the educational environment, Angela Kayi found the Master of Arts in Liberal Studies (MALS) program at Oakland University; the perfect fit for her personal and professional needs.

Angela began her graduate studies with an MBA program because her employer encouraged the pursuit of a higher degree. While she found the MBA program beneficial, it didn't provide the intellectual stimulation she was seeking for her own personal growth. She decided to take a break from the MBA program to explore other options. She discovered OU's MALS program while investigating art history programs in the Detroit area.

"The flexibility of the MALS program allowed me to really shape the coursework, combining different areas of study that I found fascinating," says Kayi, whose master's project was based on sociology, women's studies and the history of art. "There are very few programs that allow you to explore very different disciplines and apply them to each other in this way."

"The program also exhibits very high standards and emphasizes the importance of effective oral and written communication," she says. "The application of these skills builds the ability to think critically and express y our ideas effectively - essential skills for any career."

Kayi is thrilled with her MALS experience and it has exceeded her expectations. From encouraging international travel through a guided tour to how the program offers fresh - not canned - courses every year makes the program fresh and interesting. "The courses are topical and contemporary, which positively impacts future career opportunities for the program's graduates," she says.

Not only did the MALS program offer Kayi an opportunity to earn a graduate degree that is meaningful to her and her employer, but it also provided the chance for Kayi to work with beloved professors she first encountered while pursuing her BA in Art History at OU. Kayi was the first MALS recipient of the Provost's Graduate Student Research Award in 2008 which supported work on here master's project and allowed her the opportunity to work with professors she learned from during her undergraduate education.

"It's a great opportunity to study with people who love what they're teaching," says Kayi. "The whole idea of coming back to OU and working with these faculty members was very appealing."

Cari Lambert
Cari Lambert is a MALS student currently living in Frankfurt, Germany where her husband has accepted a 1-2 year position in the automotive industry.

Cari graduated from Madonna University with a degree in Social Work and Sign Language Studies. Prior to beginning her course of study in MALS, Cari was employed as a social worker in the field of mental health, providing services to developmentally disabled and mentally ill individuals. She completed three courses in the MALS program and continued to work full-time before her “sabbatical.”

Why did you choose the MALS program?

I graduated with my undergraduate degree in the mid-90’s expecting fully to continue with my education immediately and obtain a Master’s Degree in Social Work. Once I began working in the field of social work I realized that a Master’s Degree in Social Work did not align with my career goals. Year after year passed. The desire to obtain a Master’s Degree never waned but a specific program never came into focus. I then learned of the MALS program and it seemed like a perfect fit. I was at a point in my career where I felt settled and was confident in my decision not to have pursued the MSW, to ‘learn for the sake of learning’ and to ‘expand my horizons.’ The MALS program offers the opportunity to do just that. The program is designed in such a way that a student can craft a degree based on his/her interests. It ensures that a student’s focus doesn’t become too narrow by offering an eclectic array of class choices within a multi-disciplinary framework.

What do you do on a daily basis in Frankfurt?

I am asked this question all the time and always seem to have difficulty providing a sufficient answer. I have transitioned from working full-time and going to school part-time to not working or taking classes at all. I have found that I am continually busy, whether I’m taking care of our apartment, running my daily errands, exploring the city, traveling, or engaging in activities with the American Women’s Club. Photography is one of my hobbies and I have enjoyed the opportunity to spend quite a bit of time behind the lens of my camera. I’ve also begun to read much more than I ever have which has been very enjoyable.

Describe what was the most difficult adjustment you have made living overseas?

The transition to moving/living overseas was much easier than either my husband or I anticipated. We have been here approximately four months and have found there are phases to the adjustment though. First, there is a honeymoon phase where everything is new, fun and exciting. Then you find that you’re beginning to feel a little more settled, life is becoming comfortable, and a routine has become established. Life is still fun and exciting. The phase that we find ourselves in now is that life is still very enjoyable but the differences between life in America and life in Germany are no longer novelties but rather a reality that you must accept or continually struggle against. We have concluded there are pros and cons to living in both places and our efforts at the moment are to focus on the pros of Germany. The list is long but the pros that come to mind immediately include Germany’s beautiful landscape, flowers in abundance sold very inexpensively, inexpensive quality wines, phenomenally disciplined drivers (we will only wish for German drivers on I-275 and I-696 when we return home!), and the many, many kind people who have gone out of their way to help expats like us. Of course, high on the list as well is Germany’s location within Europe; centrally located it allows for ease of travel anywhere throughout Europe. In general, we have found that focusing on the positive (as with anything in life) makes our experience that much more enjoyable. Most importantly we have found that willingness to adapt as well as having a sense of humor is vital.

What do you miss most about living in the U.S.?

Sheer convenience, air conditioning, and insecticides on produce (not necessarily always in that order!). Germany is a modern, first-world country but there are significant differences between it and the U.S. To address the issue of convenience, I decided I would rely on a bicycle and/or the public transportation system. In Frankfurt proper this is common practice. Not only is the public transportation system first rate but parking in Frankfurt is scarce and expensive. I underestimated the effects of this on me. Errands often take longer than I anticipate, I am continually exposed to the elements outdoors and am dependent upon the transportation system’s schedule. What I purchase has to fit in the saddlebags on my bicycle (generally two grocery bags) or it has to be light enough that I can carry it all the way home. To this point, life in Germany has forced me to become more organized as well as frugal. As it relates to air conditioning I think it probably speaks for itself. Most people in America enjoy the benefits of cool air on a hot, stifling day. In Germany there really is no reprieve from the heat. I tried to make the best of it and used this summer’s heat as an opportunity to explore the many public pools that Frankfurt has to offer.

Holly Gilbert
What was your MALS thesis topic?

The topic was journalism and art and whether the two can co-exist in an "objective" realm. I wrote a play about the issue, featuring W. Eugene Smith, the photojournalist. His dialogue was entirely based on his life, but the storyline was, well, surreal. The play has been used in several journalism classes here and at MSU. I've seen it performed a few times, and played one of the roles once. I kid my husband, who wrote a stunning thesis for his master's in history, that mine gets taken off the shelf more!

Has your MALS thesis research proven applicable to your current endeavor?

I'm a journalist and the study about art and journalism and objectivity entirely changed my worldview about the profession and it's intentions.

Did you originally see the MALS degree as a stepping stone in your professional advancement?

Yes, I hoped it would shore up my CV of course, and help me keep my beloved day job (teaching); but I also wanted to stimulate my gray matter.

Are you currently working? If so, what are you doing?

Yes, I'm a journalist and I'm on the faculty here in the journalism program at OU.

Has the interdisciplinary education of your MALS degree influenced your work? If, so please explain the benefit?

It's been mind expanding; a steady stream of new ideas, ideals and theories for four years has resulted in a list of story ideas that will have to be handed over to my great grandchildren.

Do you plan to stay in the area?

 I'll go where things take me. But for now, yes, I'm here.

Are you working on any projects or volunteering currently?

I always have four or five projects "in my drawer" and volunteer wherever needed.

Have you been traveling since completing this program? If so, please tell us about your experiences.

I travel whenever possible.

If there is a piece of advice that you could pass on to current and incoming MALS students, what would it be?

Be discerning but open-minded about what you take. Stretch beyond what you know and beyond your comfort level. I wrapped my mind around things that I never thought possible 

Dan Brown
What was your MALS thesis topic?

Spaghetti Westerns and the Cold War.

Has your MALS thesis research proven applicable to your current doctoral studies?

Not really since I’m working now with British literature in the Victorian period. All writing is good practice, though. Even if it isn’t your best work, you still learn something from the experience.

Did you originally see the MALS degree as a stepping stone to your next degree program?

Not when I first started. I initially thought it would be useful for developing a career in librarianship. Once I got into the classes, though, I realized I wanted to go on for a PhD.

What drew you to the program at the University of Florida?

I applied to Florida because they offered a generous fellowship in Victorian studies. I got accepted to Florida and Ohio State. I chose Florida for three reasons: a) the money b) change of location c) the openness of their curriculum.

How do you like living in Gainesville?

It’s ok. It’s a small town so there isn’t very much to do. The campus is pretty, though, and it’s much warmer and sunnier than Michigan.

How and when did you decide to pursue a PhD in English?

Professor Cole’s courses got me interested in Victorian literature. She provided me a great deal of encouragement and support throughout the program. I think the pivotal experience, though, was when I presented a paper I wrote for one of her courses at the British Association for Victorian Studies. This is something I would never have done without her guidance. That experience really confirmed to me that I wanted to pursue the PhD in English.

Tell us about your program?

It’s a strong program with a great deal of openness and flexibility. I really enjoyed my course on Victorian masculinities last semester.  Next semester I’m taking a course on the “woman question” in late Victorian England and a course on comics and animation from a Blake scholar.

What is your current research topic?

I just finished a seminar paper on representations of “primitive” masculinity in some of Paul Gauguin’s paintings and writings.  I’m not sure about my dissertation topic yet, but I might like to do more with gender studies in the Victorian period.

Has the interdisciplinary education of your MALS degree influenced your course work? If, so please explain the benefit?

Definitely. For instance, last semester I wrote a paper on a French Impressionist painter in a course on British Victorian literature! I definitely like incorporating elements of the visual with the literary. I also like drawing together ideas from seemingly disparate thinkers, like philosophers, writers and painters.

Are you currently working? If so, what are you doing?

Part of my fellowship requires me to teach two semesters in my first and third year of the program. Last semester I taught “Introduction to Argument and Persuasion”, basically an introductory composition course. Next semester I’m leading a discussion section of a course on multiculturalism in America.

If there is a piece of advice that you could pass on to current and incoming MALS students, what would it be?

Take advantage of as many opportunities as possible. As a MALS student, I managed to travel, give public presentations and readings, work on several newsletters and publications and prepare for entrance to a doctorate degree. It’s a very versatile program and the more you do, the more it works for you.

Susan Walsh
Why Did I Enroll in the MALS Program?

I was asking myself that very question as I pulled into the parking lot at OU on January 4. What was I thinking? Going back to school? I hadn’t been in a classroom in, well, never mind, let’s just say the last time I was a student, I had no computer, no cell phone, and no credit card. I decided I was just crazy, but would go ahead with it. Before the first class had ended, so had the panic.

I was/am excited about the MALS program and Oakland University. I had never intended to be away from school for so long, but until I found the MALS program, nothing really lured me back.

I have an eclectic personality, and, as a senior writer at an international advertising agency, my career involves a daily interdisciplinary study. So, the MALS program is an uncannily good fit. The curriculum will help me to be a better advertising professional. The degree will help me when I decide I no longer want to be an advertising professional.The whole process will, I hope, make me a better, more informed human being. Besides, no math is involved.