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College of Continuing Education News

Driving force

Innovative applied degrees help meet market need for educated professionals in high-demand areas


The College of Continuing Education has long been the home of interdisciplinary, cross-collegiate education at the University of Minnesota. So, too, has it been a home to adult learners of all backgrounds, featuring courses designed to meet the needs of busy adults, many of whom are balancing the demands of a family, a career, or other pressures.

It is no surprise, then, that it is also the home of the University's suite of Bachelor of Applied Science degree programs (BAS). These practical, real-world programs draw course work from around the University and are designed in conjunction with the input of advisory boards of industry leaders in response to the changing needs of students, as well as the market. Students gain professional experience firsthand.

The first of these degrees, Bachelor of Information Networking (which later became the current Information Technology Infrastructure) rolled out in 1993. It was followed by more bachelor's degrees, including current programs which focus on management in the construction and manufacturing fields."They fit well into CCE's suite of programs," says Michelle Koker, the College's director of undergraduate degree programs, "because they provide adults a flexible way to get the communications, business, and technical skills they need to move into higher positions in their industry, or move to a new field altogether."

Because the BAS programs are designed to provide timely, cutting-edge training for their respective industries, new courses are being added frequently. Manufacturing Operations Management (MM) added three new core courses this year that "will refine the operations focus to serve high-tech manufacturing-- an area that includes Minnesota's booming medical device manufacturing sector," says Koker. That type of response to market demands is critical, says Jack Sandahl, fellow at Boston Scientific's Supplier and Materials Management division. An advisory board member for the MM program, he is also the instructor for one of the new courses, Manufacturing Outsourcing Decisions.

"The global economy has increased pressure on organizations to optimize both quality and value in delivery of products to customers," he says. "Successful companies optimize allocation of resources between insource of core competencies and outsourcing to add value and flexibility to supply chains. This course will better prepare our students for making sound sourcing decisions that increase value for customers, while reducing manufacturing costs and managing supply chain performance."

The Construction Management (CM) program also saw a big change this year--the addition of a new degree track in Facility Management (FM). Because the skill set needed for that industry is so diverse, the FM course work covers a wide area of interests and draws individuals from disparate backgrounds, from interior design and engineering to sustainability and project management. The applied, interdisciplinary curriculum is hands-on, covering a variety of disciplines, including engineering, business and management, design, HR, sustainability, and more.

The FM program is the only one of its kind in the Upper Midwest, and fills a demand for management and leadership training from one of the fastest growing career fields today. "Building technology is changing rapidly," says Peter Hilger, Construction Management faculty member and FM project spearhead. "Pair that with the statistic that an estimated 50 percent of the existing facility managers will be retiring in the next two decades or so...you have a huge job market that is waiting for educated people who can fill in that knowledge gap."


Company executives know their second largest expense (behind personnel costs) is real estate and building costs, explains Kristine Fisher, certified facility manager, director of corporate real estate for RBC Wealth Management, and instructor for Facility Operations and Maintenance. To understand and control costs, "organizations are looking for hard-working, competent facility coordinators, managers, and leaders."

"The degree will encompass the complete building lifecycle," says Hilger. "It's a cradle-to-grave program; meaning students will look at everything from the purchasing of real estate to the building's inception/design; from construction and maintenance/recommissioning, all the way to demolition."

For nearly 20 years, the College has worked to ensure its applied degrees truly meet the needs of incoming students--especially adults returning to school to finish their degree. Concludes Koker, "regardless of the specific enhancements, developments, initiatives, methods, etc., we choose, our goal is--and always will be--to offer high-quality, innovative, and flexible educational opportunities that respond to the growing needs for lifelong learning, skill development, and professional/technical academic offerings."

Alumna Voice: Nyoka Giles, 2012 BAS Manufacturing Operations Management (MM)
Initially, Nyoka Giles planned to major in chemical engineering and work in the pharmaceutical field, but in her junior year she switched her major to manufacturing operations management to better fit with her career goals.

I've always wanted to help people... It's been a passion of mine, making sure people are cared for, doing well.

I realized that chemical engineering wasn't the right fit for me, and started looking around at other options. I found MM, and after meeting with an adviser knew that it matched really well with what I wanted to do--which is work in medical device manufacturing. It's a field where I get some of that same satisfaction of being able to help people, just from a slightly different aspect.

The course on FDA regulatory compliance and the business classes appealed to me especially, because I knew I wanted to work in a more managerial role in med tech--maybe process engineering or regulations, as opposed to a technical/product development role.

My degree gave me an understanding of the concepts behind process control and quality management in high-performance manufacturing organizations. It's also given me business and leadership skills that I think will be quite beneficial. It's a nice blend of the science with the leadership aspects. I think in some of the more traditional engineering-type majors it's easy to miss out on a lot of those business skills you get in this program.

Giles is now at Florida International University working on a graduate degree in engineering management.

Alumna Voice: Nicole Olsen, 2012 BAS Construction Management (CM)
As a freshman in college, I knew I wanted to be a part of [the construction/maintenance of] large structures, maybe bridges, but didn't know at what capacity. After a few student positions with WisDOT and UMN NTS (Networking Telecommunications Services), I was introduced to the Construction Management program at the U. The advisory board was extremely helpful in addressing my goals as a student and young professional.

One of the program requirements is an internship for credit and I can honestly say it opened numerous doors for me and my career. Networking with local companies provides students an opportunity to build relationships within the industry and learn hands on. The tools I gained through the CM program prepared me for my internship and then, ultimately, my education and field experience prepared me for my career.

I graduated with a major in construction management and am currently working with M.A. Mortenson Construction on the Biomedical Discovery District project (on the U of M campus!). It is very rewarding to still be on campus and be a part of such a large commercial project. Every day comes with new challenges, but each challenge is a lesson, and I hope to never stop learning.

If I have any "words of wisdom" for students in CM or young professionals it would be to get outside! The beauty of construction is that we build physical tangible structures. Aristotle said it best, "what we have to learn to do, we learn by doing."

Photo of Nyoka Giles by Tim Rummelhoff. Photo of Peter Hilger by V. Paul Virtucio.


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