Giving the students what they want.
When students began clamoring for more options in technology education, the University of Washington listened. Rather than throw together a few general classes, the university’s Educational Outreach department developed new programs based on student wishlists, right down to a game animation class that’s proven mighty popular. Manager of public relations Roberto Sanchez talks about certificates, data mining, and gaming.
How was the decision made to include computing and technology certificate programs as part of the educational outreach program?
Information technology certificates have been a mainstay of Educational Outreach since the early 1990s, but we offered a certificate in data communications as early as 1986. The decision to offer these programs came from looking closely at our student audiences. We do this with all our new programs, technology or not, since UWEO is self-supporting division of the university, relying on student fees, contracts and licensing opportunities to cover our costs. In terms of technology, the greater Puget Sound area was and is home to many software and information technology companies, with a need for savvy, well-trained employees.
With the economic downturn, do you see an increase in enrollment, or some other indicator of change?
Some information technology programs, particularly those in Web technologies or e-commerce, have suffered low enrollments in the past year. However, specialties such as database management, data and Internet security, and game development have continued to draw many students. The IT certificate programs are very popular, and every year we add a few more specialties.
Why did you decide to start offering a game animation class this year?
Educational Outreach first offered a related program last year in Game Development, which brought us lots of interest from students all over the state, and national news coverage. Given the demand for that program and the growing presence of game development companies around Puget Sound, we thought we should offer more certificates related to video gaming. All of our programs are designed with the help of advisory boards made up of industry and academic experts, and their curricula are updated every year as the fields change.
What kinds of challenges do you see with these computing and technology programs?
Computing technology changes quickly, forcing education providers to work hard at keeping programs current. In the same vein, demand for computing technology programs is inconsistent year to year, depending on what technology is in use at the time. To be successful, education providers have to look closely and often at market demands.
There are so many certifications available; how do you advise your students on what to take?
We don’t have dedicated counselors for our certificate offerings, but we do offer many information meetings before classes start, to give potential students a chance to meet with instructors and decide what is best for them. Our brochures and Web site are also very thorough, and include contact information for each program manager, so potential students can get more information if they need it.
What kinds of future directions do you see for these programs?
It’s hard to predict the path of new technology. But the current wisdom is that areas such as Web services, data mining, and wireless technologies will be in demand. We hope to meet it with new programs that continue our tradition of quality and accessibility.
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