Written by Amy Conrad Warner
Leaders at educational institutions that comprise the Coalition of Urban Serving Universities (USU) – of which IUPUI is an active member – are digging deeply into the question of what factors make students workforce ready. What should relationships with employers look like in the 21st Century and how must universities transform to meet those needs?
There is a consensus that adaptability is key to preparing students for the constantly evolving workforce of today and tomorrow. In virtually every profession, highest levels of career success require more than the requisite knowledge and skills demonstrated to attain degrees.
In addition to benefiting from intense, quality instruction, it is essential that students have experiences beyond the classroom such as travel abroad, hands-on research, volunteer activities and internship opportunities that mirror future workplace environments. Applying knowledge and skills to real-life circumstances enables students to get a real-time glimpse into what they can expect professionally and also to establish a frame of reference useful when students face similar challenges later on the job.
Deliberate campus collaborations with community and corporate partners create unique IUPUI student access to learning in a flourishing urban environment. For example, Citizens Energy Group launched Partnership for Excellence in Research and Learning (PERL) to give engineering students a chance to work on real-world projects involving the utility company. The program hopes to both expand student expertise and encourage them to channel their skills and knowledge in Indianapolis and Indiana.
Students learning in context may be the point at which the rubber meets the road. That cliché comes to life for School of Engineering and Technology senior Chase Wilderman who is applying his mechanical engineering skills to part-time employment at Allison Transmission. In addition to driving a racecar in a popular IUPUI commercial that airs locally, Chase designed and built a Formula 1 racecar from the ground up.
Combining degree pursuit with practical experience was life-changing event for Larken Marra, a sports management major with dreams of becoming the first female general manager in professional football. She changed directions after volunteering with the School of Physical Education and Tourism Management (PETM) Adapted Physical Activities Clinic where she helped people with disabilities participate in physical activities.
Graduate accounting student Tingna Xu spent her summer as a finance intern at CMG Worldwide working to help some of the most renown celebrities in the world retain rights to intellectual properties. Only half way through his sophomore year, Chancellor’s Scholar Joseph Boone has interned at the IU Simon Cancer Center where the medical student studied the effectiveness of drugs on cancer cells.
These are impressive, high-level student learning activities that undoubtedly will make these students – and hundreds involved in similar learning beyond the classroom – far better prepared for the world of careers; capable of adapting to the most pervasive and unanticipated change.
The first in-depth “first-destination” survey of IUPUI graduate outcomes last year revealed that 89.9 percent reported positive outcome – employed full- or part-time, enrolled in graduate school, serving in the military or engaged in volunteer/service initiatives. Sixty-five percent reported working full-time in the Indianapolis. An impressive 64.1 percent of students with known career outcomes completed at least one internship, practicum, co-op or related field experience.
The urgency of student preparedness for the workforce was a highlight of Governor Holcomb’s 2018 State of the State address. I want to conclude with some of the solid affirmations voiced in that memorable speech. The governor said:
“We want to develop a 21st century skilled and ready workforce. Our plans need to be comprehensive – beginning with an education system that gives every child a strong start all the way through the training programs that ensure our citizens have the skills they need. Therefore, we must make sure that our resources are properly aligned to produce the skill sets our businesses crave.”
Twenty-first Century Workforce Development is a continuous process and IUPUI will continue its prominent place among thought leaders, educators, as well as public and private community partners working toward this quality of life imperative.