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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Building Careers and Characters

Most college programs seek to train students to assume a particular occupation, such as an engineer, accountant, lawyer or therapist. However, the Critical and Creative Thinking (CCT) graduate program helps students from all backgrounds and professional interests develop the knowledge they need to become, as the website states, “constructive, reflective agents of change” in any ambition they choose to pursue.

That’s certainly been the experience of CCT student Jeremy Szteiter. “A lot of other graduate programs, they sort of help people to distinguish themselves in their field,” he said. “CCT is something that gives you the more general tools that you could use to distinguish yourself anytime you wanted to in life, how you could take a whole new approach to whatever you were doing.” Szteiter explained that although he is interested in education, he didn’t want to pick a graduate program that would define his career as a teacher or an administrator. “I felt that other Masters in Education were actually more limiting,” he said. “So, CCT left flexibility for me to form different ways that I wanted to involve myself in education. It left that part open so that I wasn’t choosing a particular occupation.”

Although the program is part of the UMass College of Education, CCT attracts people from across professional fields, including artists, businesspeople, activists and health professionals, among others. “There’s such a variety of people with different backgrounds and different experiences who share a common appreciation for critical and creative thinking,” said Szteiter. “I think that it’s just amazing and outstanding that we can all be together and share ideas, and there’s so much variation and variety that we learn a lot from each other.”

Sharing ideas and learning from other students is one of the cornerstones of CCT. The program uses student-centered and self-directed approaches to leaning, such as reflective writings, group discussions and sharing work so students discover knowledge. “There’s very little direct teaching,” Szteiter explained, “but the faculty definitely lend their expertise in everything that goes on by creating situations that make those concepts come up for the students.” He continued, “To me, those types of activities represent alternatives to how learning might happen if it’s only been happening in one way.”

Program Coordinator Peter Taylor explained that Critical and Creative Thinking gives students opportunities to discover and make changes to situations they may not have previously felt able to change. “Each course introduces different tools and gives students opportunities to experiment with putting those tools into practice,” he said. “Tools are for reflection, interaction with peers, taking risks, or taking stock and learning from what you’ve done, where it worked and where it didn’t, or trying new things, new ways of thinking … One of the things that’s important to me about the program is that it’s about thinking, but also about thinking in relationship to practice, in relationship to doing something.”

CCT also helps students discover new insights into their own thinking. “When I joined the program,” Taylor reflected, “I had very little idea of the kinds of changes students would make in their work and lives during the course of the program … I’ve also seen how you need to program to help them make those changes, you need sustained interaction.”

Szteiter feels the Critical and Creative Thinking program has helped him grow both professionally and personally; “I have a lot better sense of what it means for me to have potential and how I can choose and try to do different types of things if I want to,” he said. “I don’t feel like I’m restricted in any way. I don’t have to put anything aside in terms of what I’ve ever wanted to do in order to focus on an occupation.”