ATLAS Institute confers its first bachelor's degrees

Published: May 10, 2017 By

Brady Risendal, Marla Bernstein, and Meridith Richter

Brady Risendal, Marla Bernstein, and Meridith Richter. Photo courtesy of ATLAS.

Three students on Friday will represent the first class of graduates with the ATLAS Institute's bachelor of science degree in technology, arts and media (TAM).

The students, Marla Bernstein, Meridith Richter and Brady Risendal, are earning the degree – an interdisciplinary offering with the College of Engineering and Applied Science—less than two years after the launch of the undergraduate program.

The bachelor's degree grew out of the ATLAS Institute’s popular TAM minor and certificate option—launched in the late 1990s—which now enrolls over 1,000 students.

"The most common piece of feedback we’ve received over the years is, 'I wish this were a major,'" says Aileen Pierce, associate director of the TAM program. "We've attracted students who want to use technology to design and create innovative projects, and seen them flourish, but we were only able to take them so far. Now we offer a lot more depth."

While students can combine the TAM minor or certificate with any major at CU Boulder, students who wish to pursue the degree option have to gain admission to the College of Engineering and Applied Science to enroll in the TAM program.

This wasn’t an issue for Bernstein, who was already enrolled in the college. She rotated through mechanical and civil engineering before settling on TAM as her major, which she describes as the perfect fit for her interests. After graduating, she plans to work as a web developer and designer. "I have never been happier," she says.

Risendal’s journey to TAM was slightly less circuitous. He started as an engineering physics major and switched to TAM at the beginning of his junior year. "I always saw myself as working on more creative technologies," he says. "I was always looking for ways to be more creative in engineering classes, but math and physics don’t have that type of flexibility."

Richter always envisioned herself as a storyteller, jumping into film and creative writing during her freshman year. When she discovered she had a talent for computer programming, she switched her major to computer science, but that wasn’t a good fit either. Eager to fuse her interests in technology and the arts, she didn’t hesitate when she heard about the TAM degree program.

For one electronic music project, Richter turned an Old Navy denim jacket into a musical instrument using movement sensors, tiny speakers and a microcontroller. Pursuing a TAM degree has also allowed her to reconnect with her inner storyteller: "I can convey stories that are important to me across a variety of media—web, film, graphic design and programming," she says. 

If you go:

Who: Everyone welcome
What: ATLAS Institute’s Recognition Ceremony
When: May 12, noon
Where: Muenzinger Auditorium, 1905 Colorado Ave., Boulder 

There are now 163 students, with more in the pipeline, in the growing TAM bachelor’s program.

"Some students fall naturally into traditional engineering disciplines, but there have always been those who don’t," says ATLAS Director Mark Gross. "They may slog through a program that only partly satisfies their curiosity, or they may drop out of engineering altogether. TAM opens new opportunities and expands what is possible within engineering. It’s a model that is robust and adaptable, and it’s going to spread."

In the meantime, the three students graduating this spring are blazing a trail, but they aren’t alone. ATLAS also is granting nine master’s degrees, 96 TAM minors and 93 TAM certificates to will-be new CU Boulder alumni.

Read more about Richter and fellow ATLAS graduate Danny Rankin.