The Development of Strategic Clusters at Plymouth State University


Up here, in the White Mountains

I am serving in a position at PSU called Strategic Cluster Guide.       This means that I am one of a body of people who are meeting regularly to bring about the transitions that President Birx has called for.

Understand that all of this is still under discussion this summer, and there is a lot of work to do.  What I am writing here is my own perspective on what is taking shape.

Today I have seen an article from the Union Leader a few times on social media.   The article has a deliberately confusing and negative title that probably serves well as clickbait.    “Layoffs, ‘cluster’ classes as PSU attempts to revamp higher ed”   They are deliberately mashing the concept of clusters in between the words “Layoffs” and “attempts,” as if it is somehow desperate.

They published a clickbait article.

Here’s what’s going on:   We want more scholarship at PSU.  We want more projects that serve the community.  We want more interaction between disciplines.   In the 21st century, disciplines change rapidly.  They merge into new industries.   A great many jobs that will be filled in fifteen years do not even exist yet.

We want Plymouth State University to empower students to communicate and collaborate across disciplines.     We want this to be second nature for them.   To that end, we are looking at restructuring how our different programs might have greater opportunity to come together.

The initiative is Clusters.    At the moment, disciplines have been grouped into seven Strategic Clusters.   These are:

  1. Arts & Technology
  2. Education, Democracy & Social Change
  3. Exploration & Discovery
  4. Health & Human Enrichment
  5. Innovation & Entrepreneurship
  6. Justice & Security
  7. Tourism, Environment & Sustainable Development

The concept is that we will find ways to inspire projects that draw from multiple disciplines.   These projects might involve students, faculty, staff, and community people.  The particulars of how this will work is still being worked on.   That is a big part of what is happening with our discussions this summer.

We are also talking about a concept called “Open Labs.”   This concept refers to new work spaces being created on campus for collaborative discovery, as well as potential new kinds of scholarship, possibly similar to practicums, but with deliberate cross-discipline emphases.

Students operate an audio console and projections during a community event in Hanaway Theatre
Students operate an audio console and projections in preparation for a community event in Hanaway Theatre

We are discussing the possibility of departments going away.  This doesn’t mean that any department’s function or content is being cut.  It means that we might change the model of how our different disciplines interact.   For example, right now we have the Department of Music, Theatre, and Dance.   We might move to a model where each of those disciplines has some sort of head or director.   They would each reside, then, not within the MTD Department, but within the Arts and Technology cluster, alongside Art, Computer Science, and English.    Same degrees, same content, just a different way of interacting with other programs.       Within the university, a cluster might be smaller than a college or school, but bigger than a department.

There is a good article on the initiative here:


Be aware that this is all still a work in progress.   There is a lot of discussion going on.  What I think is important to understand, though, is that this is all about creating possibilities for new collaboration at PSU.     I expect this to do some really interesting and cool things for General Education and a lot of other places.

Spacial design, computer controlled lighting, aerial dance, theatre are combined in The Pleasure Men, Studio Theatre, 2013. Directed by Robin Marcotte. Rebecca Martin shown here.

And to you people in Music, Theatre, and Dance:  Know that we are a pretty good model already for the entire cluster concept, and always have been.    Talking across disciplines, collaborating, and working towards projects for the community is what we do, and is what we always have done.     But if you are interested in  Game Design, the Motion Capture of Actors, Drama Therapy, or any other of a long list of cross-discipline topics, then know that those are exactly the kinds of ideas that are driving this into play.

I don’t know exactly how fast this will all happen.   It could be fast.   We are going to rock this, and I expect it to be awesome.

President Barack Obama views a motion capture demonstration during a tour of the Glendale campus of movie studio DreamWorks Animation SKG in Glendale, Calif., Nov. 26, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza) This official White House photograph is being made available only for publication by news organizations and/or for personal use printing by the subject(s) of the photograph. The photograph may not be manipulated in any way and may not be used in commercial or political materials, advertisements, emails, products, promotions that in any way suggests approval or endorsement of the President, the First Family, or the White House.
President Barack Obama views a motion capture demonstration during a tour of the Glendale campus of movie studio DreamWorks Animation SKG in Glendale, Calif., Nov. 26, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)


Clusters at other institutions


University of Rochester:

Lehigh University:


Respectfully written for the Plymouth State Community,

Matt Kizer
Theatre Design and Technology
Arts and Technology Cluster
Plymouth State University