In 2018, the Metropolitan State University of Denver (MSU Denver) developed an online Water Studies certificate program for water professionals and those interested in learning more about water. The program comprises three courses, each in a convenient self-paced online format: Water Law, U.S. Water Concerns, and Colorado Water and the American West. Participants can take all three courses and earn a certificate or take just one or two courses if they prefer. In this interview, Terry Bower, MSU Denver’s associate vice president of innovative and lifelong learning, tells us about the certificate program’s genesis.
Municipal Water Leader: Please tell our readers about your background.
Terry Bower: I grew up in Washington, DC. I went to Emory University for my undergraduate degree in English and to Arizona State University (ASU) for my graduate degree in social work. Along the way, I continued to move back and forth from the East Coast to the West, exploring the best that each has to offer. The majority of my professional career has been in communications or higher education. I developed my passion for communications from my father, who ran a DC-based ad agency for over 40 years. I developed my passion for higher education while working at the George Washington University (GWU), where I created corporate training programs, including GWU’s first Arabic interpretation program, which I created right after 9/11. My husband and I moved to Denver in 2011, and after a stint with the mayor’s office, I started at MSU Denver in 2017, building continuing education and alternative credential programs for the community.
Municipal Water Leader: Please tell us about MSU Denver.
Terry Bower: MSU Denver is a public university with approximately 20,000 students. We offer bachelor’s degrees, master’s degrees, and certificates. MSU Denver is a Hispanic-serving institution. Nearly half our students are students of color, and over half are first-generation college students. Close to 80 percent of our students are working while they’re pursuing their education. We have 95 majors and 8 graduate programs. We have a large economic effect on Denver and the state of Colorado, because the vast majority of our graduates stay in Colorado after they graduate and contribute to the local economy. We share a downtown campus with two other higher education institutions, the Community College of Denver and the University of Colorado Denver, and the campus is vibrant. What I love the most about our campus is that it reminds me of being in New York; it is bustling with people of all ages, colors, and backgrounds. It’s a really an exciting place to be.
Municipal Water Leader: Please tell our readers about your water certificate program, how it started, and what it does.
Terry Bower: It started with my passion for water. Growing up in DC, I was heavily involved with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, first as a high schooler, when I participated in field trips, and later as a member and a volunteer. These experiences taught me about the preciousness of water. When I came to MSU Denver, I learned about our One World One Water Center (OWOW) and Tom Cech, its director. Upon discovering this gem, I knew I wanted to create something that would help folks understand more about water—water issues and concerns, water rights, and sustainability—in a way that would have real-world applications. Tom and I met several times and then met with members of his advisory board to talk about what a professional development certificate in water might look like. I recall one advisory board member who worked at a law firm with a water practice saying, “People apply to our firm all the time without knowing the fundamentals of water. We can’t hire them. We really need folks to have this foundational knowledge.” We understood that our target audience would be busy professionals, so we developed the courses in a convenient, self-paced online format to allow individuals to proceed through the course at their own pace. Each course can be completed in 1 month, and all three courses can be completed in a semester. The program launched in 2018 with much success, and our participants include water commissioners and employees of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, the Denver Botanic Gardens, the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, and BNSF Railway, just to name a few examples. We attract professionals from across the country.
Municipal Water Leader: The class is not solely Colorado focused, correct?
Terry Bower: No. The certificate focuses on water concerns, law, and rights across the United States. The content applies to anyone currently working in a water industry or who wants to learn more about water. We offer one class called Colorado Water and the American West that is more specific to the western part of the United States; this is just a part of the certificate.
Municipal Water Leader: How long does the self-paced online course usually take, and what kind of interactions do the students have with the professors?
Terry Bower: Each course runs for 4 weeks, and students can have as much interaction with the instructors as they want. The course is designed in a self-paced online format to allow students maximum flexibility. The instructors have a welcome video at the beginning of their classes in which they introduce themselves and the topics and goals of the class. They also have a short video at the beginning of each module in which they lay out the concepts and goals for each section of the course. Students decide on the level of engagement they want to have with the content and with the instructor. Some students go through the courses quickly and do not want or need additional engagement with the instructors. Some students prefer deeper engagement with instructors and have many questions; our expert faculty is there to support each student.
Municipal Water Leader: What can you tell us about the professors teaching the courses?
Terry Bower: Dr. Elizabeth McVicker teaches Water Law. She is a water attorney and serves on the boards of three water-related Colorado entities: the Center of Colorado Water Conservancy District, the Headwaters of the South Platte Water Enterprise, and the Coalition of the Upper South Platte. She serves as a guest speaker, panelist, and media expert for water-related events and was instrumental in developing the OWOW and the water service curriculum. She has a PhD in Spanish and a JD from the University of Denver. She teaches business ethics and sustainability courses.
Dr. Matt Makley teaches Colorado Water and the American West. He is a professor of history at MSU Denver, where he has taught for almost 15 years. Previously, he taught at ASU, where he earned a PhD in Native American history and the history of the American West. The University of Nevada Press published Makley’s coauthored book, Cave Rock: Climbers, Courts, and a Washoe Indian Sacred Place, in 2010. His more recent book, The Small Shall Be Strong: A History of Lake Tahoe’s Washoe Indians, was published in 2018.
Dr. Randi Brazeau, PE, teaches U.S. Water Concerns. She received her BS and ME degrees in civil engineering at the University of Florida. After working as an engineering analyst with Kimley-Horn and Associates for 2 years, she completed a PhD in civil engineering and environmental water resources from Virginia Tech under Dr. Marc Edwards. She is an associate professor in the department of earth and atmospheric sciences at MSU Denver, where she has been since 2012.
All three professors are top faculty at MSU Denver, are incredibly popular with their students, and are very approachable. Anyone can go to our website (www.msudenver.edu/water-studies-online) to see the professors’ biographies as well as a short video of each of them introducing their respective classes. We added this information to our website to help potential students better understand the instructors and what the class will feel like.
Municipal Water Leader: What is the cost of the certificate program?
Terry Bower: The cost of each class is $425. Students can take any one of the courses or they can take all three and receive a completion certificate cobranded by the university and the OWOW. When students successfully pass a course, they receive a digital badge, which reflects the competencies that they have gained; this badge can be shared on LinkedIn or a résumé and can easily be shared with an employer.
We also offer a 30‑minute advising session with Tom Cech, our top water expert, for anyone who is interested in starting the courses but has questions about the field and job opportunities in water.
Municipal Water Leader: How many students have you had thus far?
Terry Bower: We have about 20 students each term, and there have been about 80 so far.
Municipal Water Leader: How have you changed and improved the program since launching it?
Terry Bower: We changed the length of the self-paced online courses from one semester to 1 month, based on feedback from students; one semester was too long for many students. We’ve also created more engaging activities for the courses. For example, we have created scenario-based learning activities and increased simulated discussion and feedback.
Municipal Water Leader: Have you received feedback from employers about the courses?
Terry Bower: We have not received direct feedback from employers, but we have feedback from students. However, it is worth noting that employers frequently pay for our students to take the courses, so we can infer that they must be pleased with the competencies that their employees are gaining.
Municipal Water Leader: Would you tell us about some of the other courses you are developing that might be of interest to the water sector?
Terry Bower: We are now developing a professional writing certificate program that will also involve three 1‑month courses, in the same self-paced online format as the water courses. The first course, Principles of Writing, launches this fall! The origin of this certificate was my discussions with employers. When I ask employers what their pain points are when it comes to training and upskilling their employees, they almost always say writing. We didn’t want to ask working professionals to drop into a series of college-level courses; rather, we wanted to create customized writing courses for professionals in a convenient, online format. The courses are sequenced; as I mentioned, the first course, Principles of Writing, launches this fall. The instructor for this course has an asset-based approach to teaching writing and really works with her students to leverage their strengths and develop any weak points. The second course is Writing for Digital Media. It covers writing for websites, social media, e-mails, etc. It focuses on the different formats used when writing for digital media as well as audience perspectives. The final course is Writing for the Professions. This course builds on the first two to help individuals write for different audiences in different business formats, such as decision memos and reports. All three courses are taught by our expert writing faculty.
Municipal Water Leader: Are you open to speaking with municipal water managers and other managers who may have specific training needs?
Terry Bower: Absolutely; they should contact me. We love creating customized content that helps employers and employees succeed.
Municipal Water Leader: What is your message to municipal water managers and employees?
Terry Bower: We know about water scarcity and the huge environmental changes we are living through—extreme weather, fires, and drought are just some examples. The best thing we can do is to help water professionals and those interested in water get up to speed on the fundamentals of water: what the issues are, what the laws are, the role of water rights, and the specific national and global challenges that affect our water supply now and will continue to do so in the future. We must make informed decisions, and water is complex. Anyone can benefit from this certificate, whether to move forward in their current career, to pursue a new career, or just to become better-educated citizens so that they can be advocates for solutions to our water challenges.