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College of Continuing Education News

Making the Connection: CCE advisory boards bridging the gap between industry and academics

In his inaugural address, new University President Eric Kaler reiterated his commitment to strengthening the U's community partnerships; and in doing so, helping students meet the global needs of the 21st century.

It is a goal that resonates with the College of Continuing Education, where flexible degrees that fit students' academic, personal, and professional goals, and immediately applicable theory have long been the benchmark.

"We owe it to students to offer relevant, timely curricula and courses that are aligned with the needs of the industries they will be working for," says Mary Nichols, Dean of the College of Continuing Education. "By partnering with advisory experts, our students benefit, and the community--and future employers benefit as well."

Says Larry Kuusisto, a member of the Manufacturing Technology Bachelor of Applied Science (B.A.S.) advisory board, "I have a strong interest in the transition from academia to industry. If not done well, graduates end up knowledgeable but unable to fit in immediately and effectively. That right fit is the primary goal."

Vice president of education for LifeScience Alley and executive director of its research affiliate, Alley Institute, Kuusisto works alongside other community professionals, faculty, program staff, students, and alumni on the board, to ensure the program prepares students to meet the needs of employers.

"The advisory boards are critical to our success," says Nate Sawyer, the College's director of undergraduate programs. "Their goal is to provide advice and support on industry trends, issues, and needs; integrate and align our programming with what the business community is looking for; consult on policy, program, and curricular matters; and provide professional feedback to students."

According to chair of the Construction Management B.A.S. board, Alana Sunness Griffith (vice president of marketing for Empirehouse, Inc., and president-elect for the Minnesota Construction Association), her role on the board is a mutually beneficial one. "I enjoy working with students to ensure their education not only meets academic requirements, but also prepares them for the real work world.

"We want to prepare our students for what's coming, not just what's been done in the past.
By bringing this type of education to the classroom while still new and trend-driven, we can produce students who are not only prepared for traditional construction roles, but are also ready to address how projects may be managed and constructed in the future. The students benefit from classes influenced by professionals who have been in the trenches. The industry benefits because the [College] produces plug-and-play graduates who will build quality buildings. And the U and the College benefit because of the high reputation their graduates have earned."

Josh Dyba is one of those graduates. Impressed with the flexibility of the Information Technology Infrastructure B.A.S. program and the value of the degree to both students and to prospective employers, Dyba agreed to serve as a member of the degree's advisory board in 2007. He started as a student member of the board, and was invited to remain on it following his graduation in 2008. He now works alongside the faculty, other industry consultants, academic advisers, and other program staff to make sure the degree continues to prepare students for the workforce.

"The instructors, advisory board members, and program staff are keyed into the industry and the business needs. [All of us] are really driven to keep the degree pertinent. We don't want it to be an 'okay, you've shown you can earn some college credits, here you go,' sort of experience. We want students to come out of this program and be able to hit the ground running--to exceed the expectations of employers. We want to graduate folks who are the stars of the workplace...people who can come in and know not just the hardware and tech systems and talk to the IT folks on their level, but who can also look at a flowchart and point out gaps in process or procedures or write effective business proposals or other communications."

By learning from working professionals, as well as being in classes with other individuals from a variety of backgrounds, Dyba built a rich portfolio of hands-on, real-world experiences, along with his textbook examples. "It's that sort of immediately relevant skill set the College strives to ensure for all of its applied and professional degree students. Partnering with members of the community and business and industry to make it happen is a win-win for everyone," says Dean Nichols.

"A Two-Way Street"
Conference Services Helps Put U Research in a Public Forum
The College's degree programs are not the only connection between academics and industry. Conference Services and Program Planning facilitates a wide variety of short courses, conferences, workshops, and events that provide professional development opportunities or link University research with the public sector.

Professional Engineer Gene Soderbeck (Minnesota Pollution Control Agency) is a long-time member of the Minnesota Water Resources Conference planning committee. Working with the College, he is able to put on "a conference that highlights new and emerging issues happening in Minnesota water resources and addresses the educational/informational needs identified by [professionals attending the conference]."

"University academic members have a handle on the research [angle]," Soderbeck says. "Whereas the public members can identify what's happening 'on the ground.' Collectively, the different perspectives provide a better understanding of the water resource issues. Pair that with the College's proven administrative ability...and it results in a positive experience for committee members, attendees, and presenters."

As a U faculty member, Ted Galambos has a view from the other side. He has been on the planning committee for and a speaker in the Structural Engineering Series for many years. Producing an event that combines what is happening both in the academic world and the practicing world of structural engineering "is extremely important, for all parties," he says.

"The community is taking our graduates, and they deserve to know what they're getting, so to speak. And the U needs to know what the engineers on the outside are working on, what the current issues, concerns, and projects are.

"It's a two-way street. The U needs the public; the public needs the U. It really is a common community, and we need that connection. [That's why] regardless of how busy I am, I serve on this committee. It's very gratifying on a personal and professional level."

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