Santa Monica College officials had the same question that students and other members of the campus community had about the school receiving initial approval for a bachelor’s degree in interaction design.

Now what?

The provisional selection of SMC to take part in the statewide pilot program set in motion a months-long process as educators collaborate with administrators and industry professionals to have the entire four-year degree mapped out by the start of the 2015-16 school year.

Although the local community college’s proposal will undergo further review by the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office — the governing body is expected to weigh final approval at its March meeting — SMC officials are moving ahead briskly as they anticipate the nod.

“We want to have the program up and running as quickly as possible,” said Jennifer Merlic, dean of instruction. “We’re very excited, of course. I’ve certainly learned a lot about interaction design over the last few months.”

And it seems her education in the field — which combines elements of graphic design, computer technology and digital user experience — is just beginning.

Led by professor Jamie Cavanaugh, who spearheaded the proposal, SMC officials are working to develop an upper-division curriculum to complement the lower-division courses that are already offered.

Merlic said the process includes reporting the changes to the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges, which has released specific guidelines for the 15 schools selected out of 34 applicants to develop bachelor’s programs.

The creation of the interaction design degree will involve input from SMC’s curriculum committee and other campus leaders, Merlic said. She added that the college has experience updating classes in a technology sector that is constantly evolving.

“We know that the courses can’t sit on the books for years,” she said. “We’re very nimble.”

The program’s advisory board will likely feature executives from the local tech industry, which stands to benefit from a future crop of graduates with applicable skills.

“We will be inviting them to participate, and we will be guided by their expertise,” Merlic said of Silicon Beach professionals. “We’d love it if they would take the students as interns, and we hope they hire our students after they graduate.”

Students who pursue interaction design degrees will pay $46 per unit in lower-division courses and $130 per upper-division unit, according to Merlic. The campus has created a website ( to keep students informed on their progress.

Meanwhile, officials will consider a rebranding of the design technology department to incorporate interaction design.

The selection of SMC followed intense review by CCC staff, University of California and state education department representatives, a business official, community college administrators and faculty from districts that did not apply to host a program, according to Paige Marlatt-Dorr, communications director for California Community Colleges.

SMC was chosen because of its perceived ability to establish an effective curriculum in its proposed field while meeting a workforce need and avoiding overlap with UC and California State University programs.

As for whether SMC could offer more bachelor’s degree programs in the future, Merlic said she would need a crystal ball.

“The idea of the legislature is for this to be a pilot program, so they want to wait and see if it’s successful,” she said. “But the intent is to stick with career technical education, meaning more job preparation and not so much traditional academic degrees.”

Contact Jeff Goodman at 310-573-8351, or on Twitter.

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