news releases

2005.10.06 > For Immediate Release
contact: Tim Kaldahl - University Affairs
phone: 402.554.3502 - email: tkaldahl@mail.unomaha.edu

Distance MFA in Writing Program Off to Great Start

OMAHA - Very, very rarely do first-time events perfectly work.  Richard Duggin, a longtime professor in the University of Nebraska at Omaha's (UNO) Writer's Workshop, has a very, very pleased smile on his face when he talks about the first in-person session of the new University of Nebraska Low Residency Master of Fine Arts (MFA) in Writing program.

"No glitches.  It absolutely floored us," Duggin said.  He serves as the program's director.  "We couldn't have asked for better, enthusiastic student, enthusiastic faculty."

As a low-residency MFA program, students spend most of their time in the program writing and communicating with faculty and each other by e-mail and through Internet discussion boards.  Ten-day, conference style residencies bring faculty and students together twice a year.

"It took us four and a half years from the initial idea to create a program like this," Duggin said.  "We're seeing that preparation begin to return rewards now."

The first residency this past August brought together a dozen students from around the state and around the nation to the Lied Lodge Conference Center in Nebraska City, Neb. to meet with the program's faculty.  Lectures, team-taught workshops, and individual conferences were mixed with readings by students and staff.

"Most of these people are married with families," said Jenna Lewis, the administrative director of the program.  Many of the students are in their 30s or 40s, but ages range from 24 to 64.

"A lot of them found us online and applied," she said.  Another 10 to 15 students will be joining the program in January.

The University of Nebraska Board of Regents approved the Low Residency MFA in Writing degree program in the spring of 2004. The UNO Writer's Workshop and the University of Nebraska at Kearney English Department jointly administer the 60-credit hour degree.

While having a joint program is in itself unique, Duggin said, having a low residency program at a public university is a national first.  He adds that e-mail and the Internet truly make the physical distance largely irrelevant.

"It's very much like working with an editor," he said.  "You send the material back and forth."

To graduate, a student takes part in four 16-week distance seminars scheduled between the 10-day periods of in-state, face-to-face residencies. Degree tracks in fiction, poetry and non-fiction are offered.  By the end of the program, students will have a complete book-length thesis manuscript based on their creative work coming out of the seminars.

Thanks to online interaction, the students and faculty felt like they knew each other prior to arriving in Nebraska City, Lewis said.  Once everyone got together at the lodge, the feeling was more like a family reunion than a mixer.  She currently has more than 100 writers who have submitted MFA applications.  She also gets another 100 e-mails each week from people interested in the program.

Duggin said that Writer's Workshop has always been an early adapter of technology.  The first word processing programs fascinated him, he said.

"We (the Writer's Workshop) were some of the first users of Blackboard, too," he said.

The electronic resources will also be used to help bring in students considering the MFA, Lewis said.  A prospective student could "meet" other students on the MFA discussion board and see if they like the environment.  While she conducts most of the program's business over the Internet, there's one type of message she only gives over the phone.

"We always call to let people know they've been admitted," she said.  "That's my favorite phone call to make."

The current and ongoing 16-week distance session will be capped by a return to Nebraska City for a Jan. 6 to 15 residency.

For more information, call (402) 554-2406 or e-mail jennalucas@cox.net.  The program's Web site is www.unomaha.edu/unmfaw/.

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