It’s official: Santa Monica College has students who are actively pursuing bachelor’s degrees.

After months of intensive planning and preparation, the local community college this term launched its inaugural set of upper-division courses as part of the new interaction design pathway.

The 21 students who are enrolled in the program are trailblazers for the college as it attempts to align its educational offerings with opportunities in the ever-changing, technology-driven workforce.

“They are moving through as a cohort, and I think they’ve already kind of bonded,” said Jennifer Merlic, the SMC dean of instructional services. “They’re the first group to take junior-level courses. It’s exciting. We’re all very excited.”

The college was hoping to attract a second IxD section for a total of about 40 or 50 students, Merlic said, but it didn’t have much time to groom lower-division students for the new program.

SMC is already anticipating a new session to start in spring 2017, the priority admissions deadline for which was last week. Applications will be accepted on a rolling basis through Dec. 15. Students are eligible if they have the appropriate units by the end of the fall, have already completed a graphic design program or have work experience in the field.

The college expects to have two active IxD sessions at all times, Merlic said.

“If someone didn’t finish a course, we didn’t want them to have to wait a year for another cohort,” said Merlic, who noted that many current students are working professionals. “If they drop a class, they can take it again in the spring.”

About 100 students with freshman or sophomore status have expressed interest in applying to the program. It’s a unique dynamic for SMC, which is well-known for outbound transfers to four-year universities, to be receiving students from other colleges for the interaction design pathway.

Interaction design classes are currently being housed at the SMC satellite campus at Santa Monica Airport while the former Academy of Entertainment and Technology undergoes extensive renovations. The forthcoming Center for Media and Design is expected to open by next summer.

“The new facility is going to be really sharp,” Merlic said.

The creation of a bachelor’s degree at SMC followed approval from the California Community Colleges Board of Governors as part of a pilot program authorized by Gov. Jerry Brown. The local college was selected for its ability to offer a career-oriented pathway that meets workforce needs and avoids overlap with options in the University of California and California State University systems.

The new SMC track includes courses in interactive storytelling, Web development and communications, all of which aim to prepare students for professional settings. Students will also take a cognitive psychology class.

The new upper-division classes complement the existing coursework that comprises the school’s associate’s degree in graphic design.

The IxD degree program will soon be reviewed by accreditors, who are planning to visit the college Oct. 3. Representatives from the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges were already scheduled to visit the campus for a general assessment, which takes place every seven years.

Merlic said commission officials will likely visit upper-division courses and meet with students, faculty members and administrator as well as members of the curriculum committee and the IxD degree task force.

Meanwhile, representatives from Silicon Beach companies who are part of an SMC advisory board will meet this fall as they continue guiding the new program and ensure that it’s relevant to the needs of the region’s tech industry. They will be asked to help SMC connect students with internship placements, industry-sponsored projects and career networking opportunities.

“It’s a little bit new because we don’t usually have graduating seniors,” Merlic said. “We want to have the same services for a graduating student that a four-year school would provide, and the advisory board will be extremely helpful with that.”

jeff@smdp.com

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