Times change, and those who can’t adapt get left behind. Discover five higher education programs that openly embrace today’s trends and workforce needs, while preparing students for the jobs of tomorrow.
Cross-channel marketing. Cellular phones. Teleconferencing. Dot-Coms. Back in the 1990s, these buzzwords ruled the business world.
Times change, and so do technologies. Today’s business buzzwords – sustainability, mobile app, “green,” global business – are the natural evolution of yesterday’s fads.
One thing we can always count on is change. And yet certain fundamentals remain constant. This means that, to be effective, today’s higher education programs have to provide more than just a good general education. They must teach students that employers are looking for a healthy balance of work experience, relationship skills, a solid grasp of fundamentals and an attitude of lifelong learning, a readiness to meet the future in whatever form it takes.
“One thing I tell my students is that there’s this hockey player, Stan Mikita, who once said that a good hockey player goes to where the puck is,” says Andy Erbach, professor of energy management at Elgin Community College. “But a great hockey player goes to where the puck is going to be. We have to prepare for technology that doesn’t exist yet.”
Here are five college programs that are openly embracing change and evolving to meet the realities of our workforce, for today, and tomorrow.
Trend 1: Digital Design
Digital Media Department, McHenry Co. College
Degrees: Associate’s and Certificates in digital media, graphic arts, web design/development
In his mid-30s, Jason Neihoff decided it was time for a change. He had attended art school years ago, but never finished, instead painting murals and working construction – until the recession hit.
“Everyone told me that I was such a great artist, but that I needed a degree to get work,” says Neihoff. “So, I decided to go back to school.”
In fall 2009, he enrolled in the digital media program at McHenry County College (MCC), in Crystal Lake, where he gained experience in a wide range of art technologies, from photo touch-ups, illustrations and animations to website design, 3-D modeling and mobile app programming. His much-younger colleagues, fresh out of high school, were especially drawn to programming and modeling, with hopes of designing video games and movies. Neihoff focused instead on graphic design, knowing he would someday work as an in-house or freelance designer.
According to the Occupational Outlook Handbook (OOH), published by the federal Department of Labor, careers in graphic design are expected to grow about 13 percent in the next decade, while careers in software and computer programming could grow twice as fast. Nearly one-third of designers are self-employed.
“Most people think they want to work on the next Xbox game, but most of my students aren’t going to,” says Meri Winchester, instructor of computers and digital media at MCC. “Serious gaming, for the military, doing simulations, things like that – they use the same technology, and there are more jobs going into simulations.”
One of the first of its kind in Illinois, MCC’s digital media program combines the artistic and programming sides of digital design. Classrooms are equipped with new computers and design software, and an entire laboratory is dedicated to stop-motion animation.
Winchester has even started an online collection of lecture videos, at MeriHelp.net, so students can continue their educations far beyond campus. Although students use current technology, Winchester and the faculty emphasize skills that won’t change – principles of design and programming.
Because of the school’s approach to fundamentals, students like Neihoff, a 2011 graduate, have had little trouble either finding good jobs, or going on to earn four-year degrees, in subjects such as digital media. Since the department launched in 2005, some graduates have found work at Disney and in advertising agencies.
Not all students will make it big. In reality, Winchester is preparing them for the small-business and contract-work environments they’re most likely to enter.
“Small companies can’t hire a graphic designer and a web designer and an artist,” she says. “You’re expected to design their business cards, their T-shirts, their websites, and you’re expected to be a jack of all trades.”
That doesn’t bother Jennie Kopsell, an MCC alum who’s completing a bachelor’s degree online, while serving an internship with a Lombard advertising agency. Throughout her time in school, Kopsell wove together creative art and skillful programming.
“What people don’t realize is that there’s a design and technology part,” Kopsell says. “If I’m only good at art, I’m less likely to land a good job, like I have right now.”
Trend 2: Mobile Communications
iOS Application Development, Harper College
Degree: Continuing Education Certificate
Ten years ago, the term “mobile app” was as foreign to us as “automobile” was to a caveman. Since the advent of Apple’s iPhone and smartphone technology, software developers have found new ways to connect consumers to news, notes – even cat videos (there’s an app for that.) Over the next decade, demand for software programmers could grow 30 percent – well above average job demand. And, on average, employees in this field earn between $71,000 and $90,000 a year.
“Today, I did a search online for mobile app development, to see how many jobs are out there,” says Martha Karavitis-Hemmati, coordinator of adult computer training at Harper College’s Schaumburg outpost. “There are about 1,500 posts for the Chicago region that say mobile application development. That job title didn’t exist two years ago.”
Harper last year took its first steps toward mobile development by teaching working adults in a two-course program. By May 2012, the inaugural group had attained a Harper College certificate in app development.
Chuck Steneck joined the class to extend his professional skills with the Dundee-based design firm where he worked. His extensive experience in computer technology and databases prepared him well, but he found that his colleagues shared diverse interests.
“One of the students was a graphic designer,” says Steneck. “She worked for Elk Grove Park District, designing flyers, brochures, things for the golf course. They had sent her to make some apps, showing what they do, events, that kind of thing. She had no prior experience at all, and then there was Matt, who was a Java Programmer.”
Leading the class was Dr. Angelo Bravos, a programmer and software developer who’s worked at Xerox’s PARC laboratory and helped to launch mobile applications for Wall Street firms. During Saturday-only classes, Bravos guided the students through app development, online tools and programs, and tools available through Apple.
“Workers of the future will be accessing and interacting with corporate data via mobile devices, much like workers of today are doing with desktop and laptop computers,” says Bravos, who has taught a similar course for undergraduates at Judson University, in Elgin, since 2010. That course provided the foundation for Harper’s program.
Harper’s series resumes again this fall. Karavitis-Hemmati believes that it will someday become an undergraduate course.
“The college often pilots new learning concepts and courses through continuing education, non-credit courses,” she says. “I foresee Mobile Application Development being built into an accredited program here at Harper, due to the fact that it is now a software development discipline and primarily due to the demand for skilled workers.”
Since completing his Harper certificate, Steneck has unlocked new potential in his career. While wrapping up at Harper, he joined MobileMakers, an immersive two-month academy for app developers. He’s begun networking with developers who meet via the CocoaHeads group at the Michigan Avenue Apple Store. Recently, he also launched an app for kids.
“Our project is called beMonstrous, and is available in the iTunes App Store,” he says. “It’s a game-ified to-do list or project management list for kids. So, everything we learned for the first six weeks of MobileMakers, and everything I learned going through Harper, I put to work in here.”
Trend 3: Zero-Impact Design
Architecture Program, graduate-level sustainability track, Judson University
Degrees: Bachelor’s, Master’s in Architecture
Loren Johnson’s master’s thesis is an artful combination of learning laboratory and eco-sensitive design. “I took a site on campus, along the Fox River, and looked at how a building could positively impact the site,” says Johnson, a newly hired employee at an Oakbrook firm. “With the site, I tried to incite biodiversity and make it a shelter, studying how habitat is created.”
Starting with his love for the outdoors, the 2012 graduate of Judson University’s architecture program used modern technology and new sustainability practices to design a hypothetical classroom. He positioned the building to maximize daylight, integrated geothermal heating, sloped the roof for solar panels, minimized window area for insulation, added special glass to avoid bird-window collisions, and integrated nesting spaces for animals.
Call it eco-friendly, sustainable, “green” – it’s a design philosophy that helps Judson grads to get hired. “I was offered a job in Texas just after I took this job,” Johnson says. “They were looking for someone who specifically had sustainability background. Pretty much every job I saw wanted something in sustainability.”
According to the OOH, demand for architects will rise faster than average, about 24 percent in the next decade. The median pay is $72,550.
Training inside a LEED-certified classroom, both the four-year undergrad and two-year graduate students are exposed to the basics of sound architecture and environmentally friendly design. Energy efficiency, LEED design, alternative energy, storm water discharge – these concepts are a natural part of the curriculum.
“Sustainability in architecture has to do with the three E’s, and they’re economics, equity and environment,” says Keelan Kaiser, department chair. “Buildings consume about 48 percent of the energy in America, so how they’re built is very important to the national economy and the national energy portfolio.”
At Judson, the sustainability concept is an extension of the school’s Christian mission. “We have a Creation Care perspective, so it’s also an ethical and moral objective for our students and our program to really consider how to preserve and conserve what God has made and called good,” says Kaiser. “We consider the relationship of creation to the material necessity of building, being good stewards and managers of that which God has made.”
Outside of Judson, Kaiser designs sustainable and energy-efficient schools, most recently a high school addition in Wheaton. Most clients, he says, want to practice some form of eco-friendly construction. He cites research data about health and wellness related to sustainable buildings, but he’s also aware of changing construction technologies.
“The kinds of materials we’ll have to build with in the future will be much more complicated and much more sophisticated,” he says. “This will require graduates with a lot of expertise in architectural design and technological requirements, particularly in sustainable materials and specifications.”
Though they’re not taught specific standards, such as LEED, students are exposed to the principles and challenged to use internationally recognized green standards.
This is a competitive advantage for recent graduates, says Dr. Curtis Sartor, dean of the School of Art, Design and Architecture.
“This current generation of students is bringing with them a greater knowledge of computer technologies and how to use them in sustainability,” Sartor says. “A lot of firms want that, because the owners of these firms have not necessarily been educated in those computer technologies.”
Trend 4: Sustainable Homes
Energy Management Program, Elgin Community College
Degrees: Associate’s in Energy Management, var. certificates
Energy Management can mean a lot of things, but at Elgin Community College (ECC), the definition starts with HVAC – heating, ventilation and air conditioning – where job demand is expected to grow 34 percent over the next decade.
Also, consider the building managers who operate and maintain the super energy-efficient infrastructure of today’s new buildings, and the workers who will install and repair those technologies. In Elgin, sustainability is a way of life.
“There are a lot of folks talking about green energy,” says Andy Erbach, professor of energy management at ECC. “That’s wonderful, we teach it holistically. We don’t exclude fossil fuels, natural gas or traditional sources for electricity. We train our students for the least possible environmental impact and the greatest technological efficiency.”
Erbach founded the program in 2010, with the help of Jeffrey Boyd, dean of sustainability, business and career technologies. Inspired by a green energy conference, the men assembled curriculum for extending the existing HVAC certification. They combined existing classes with new ones, on topics such as photovoltaics, wind energy, commercial HVAC systems and geothermal energy, and allowed students to practice on the college’s own infrastructure.
“If I’m cold in my office, usually my other officemate is hot,” says Boyd. “What they found was that one of the dampers had shut. They could tell that my office is 70 degrees and that one is 90 degrees. By that building automation tool, they could learn how to troubleshoot, that there’s a problem somewhere. In the real world, that’s what they would do.”
One of the first cohorts was a group of 30 local contractors, whose tuition was paid for by a grant, using funds from the 2009 federal stimulus. Today, program alumni are using their skills to monitor the geothermal lake at Advocate Sherman Hospital, in Elgin, and to maintain commercial and residential HVAC systems.
Since he graduated in December 2011 with an associate’s degree, David Scott hasn’t stopped learning. A former Chrysler worker who took a buyout in 2009, Scott has earned additional certifications in HVAC technology and energy management, while working as a licensed radon tester in the Rockford area. He figures these accomplishments make him a more competitive technician.
“If people want to do solar, or solar heating, I can do that,” he says. “Or, I can do load calculations, where I figure out what size equipment to put in your house. You can’t just put up one thumb or two thumbs like we used to, and say, well, this is a two-thumb job. A lot of things in HVAC will have this technology in a few years.”
Boyd expects these technologies to gain more prominence within the coming decade. Already on campus, he’s introducing students to sustainability through bioswales that become science labs, a LEED-certified library and a vegetable garden.
“We’re trying to tie that in with what our culinary program does, so when you put a seed in the ground, there’s a science that goes with those plants in the ground, and you tie that in with how you grow your own food,” says Boyd. “So from the dirt to the plant to the table, we can connect our curriculum. We’re really working on some synergies among departments.”
Trend 5: Perpetual Networking
Career Development, Aurora University
Remember the college career center of yesteryear, the one that gave little more than quick advice on polishing your resume? That’s not Judie Caribeaux’s career center. Instead, Aurora University’s career director is engaging the entire school in a goal-oriented mindset.
“We view the four years of college as a transition time from being a student to being a professional,” she says. “We know you’re not going to be a student much longer, so how can we best transition you into that working environment?”
This fall, Caribeaux’s career center will complete a culture shift that has included adding practical seminars, one-on-one counseling and work-study assignments that put students into career-oriented campus jobs. Early test results have been staggering: there’s been a nearly 230 percent increase in student visitors.
“For example, in the student life area, a student worker was marketing this zombies-versus-humans game, where you throw a sock at someone and they become a ‘zombie,’” she says. “This student was marketing the game, and found he liked marketing and switched his major. That happened after a conversation with his supervisor, who really encouraged him to reach his potential.”
Caribeaux believes this new approach is fundamental to preparing students for the work world. A former nonprofit director who helped laid-off workers find jobs, she knows that her students face a different reality than her former clients did in the 1990s.
“You had one resume and tailored cover letters,” she says. “Now, our society is all about targeted messaging. I coach people that for every job, you have a separate resume, because it has to be so specific to what each place is looking for.”
She’s also seeing a greater demand for contract work, an ability to think cross-culturally with foreign customers and a new approach to critical thinking.
“To me, critical thinking is whether you can identify the problem, but what’s more important is asking, ‘What novel solution can lead to a better outcome?’” she says. “It’s that novel and creative insight that’s needed in jobs of the future.”
For Emiliano Ponce, a May 2012 graduate, Caribeaux provided a constant source of motivation. She helped him to polish his resume, and connected him with job recruiters. While the two prepared for a spring career fair, she told Ponce to make the most of his amiable, easygoing personality.
“Judie said ‘just start talking to people,’” Ponce recalls. “She said, ‘the first person you go to and talk to, it’s your trial run. Talk to someone you’re interested in, but won’t be heartbroken if you don’t get it.’ So I went up to this company and started talking. I blew it, but after realizing it wasn’t so bad, I handed my resume to 10 or 11 companies.”
Through that fair, Ponce landed a job as a Java programmer for Caterpillar. “A lot of my friends said, ‘Wow, you must be really good if you got a job at Caterpillar.’ I know that if you don’t put in your all, you’re not going to get something like this.”
Whether it’s for simple advice, or more complicated tips, Caribeaux is mentally arming her students not just for this job, but the job of the future.
“If you had told me 10 years ago that there’d be the need for social media marketing, I would have been surprised,” Caribeaux says. “What the careers are 10 years from now, I don’t know. I can’t predict that.”