Tuesday, March 31st, 2009 - 9:28 am

Adapting Academically

New, revised study programs respond to changing, 21st century demands

By Erika Rose

In an era when cutbacks are a sign of the times, universities must be poised for growth. Students are demanding educations that are more diverse, well-rounded and competitive. At the same time, the workforce demands professionals who are more highly skilled, dependable and efficient than ever before.

As Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Ralph Rogers sees it, Purdue University Calumet, in particular, has an obligation to weather the hardships and be part of the solution.

While other universities may be able to “hide behind ivy walls,” as he says, Purdue Calumet has a unique responsibility “to prepare an educated workforce and citizenry for our region,” as the university’s 2008-14 strategic plan reveals. Hence, new and revamped programs that reflect the region’s needs, not cutbacks, must be the rule rather than the exception.

Professor James Higley (left), Victor Ullmann and Derek StomporRogers emphasizes that the seven new or restructured academic programs Purdue Calumet has introduced during the past year or so are the result of years of talking to alumni, advisory boards and economic development experts; studying national trends; and working to provide those missing pieces that in the past have sent students seeking instruction elsewhere and industries struggling to find the talent they need.

The new and revised programs span a variety of professions, but they all answer the call of an industry in need of a certain graduate, a graduate in need of maximizing marketability and a region in need of economic revitalization.

Purdue Calumet’s new, updated academic curricula:

  • a major and online professional certificate in equine management to provide business instruction in horse-related industries;
  • a revamped baccalaureate degree in computer information systems that combines technology and business functions;
  • a baccalaureate degree in mechatronics engineering technology in response to the growing packaging industry;
  • a master’s degree in technology that mixes technical knowhow with management/supervisory expertise;
  • a master’s degree specialization in human development and family studies for human and social service practitioners desiring to expand career opportunities;
  • a revamped Master of Business Administration for Executives (MBAE) that combines hard, technical knowledge with softer leadership skills; and
  • an online master’s degree in nursing platform.

Mechatronics Engineering Technology

When industrial executives expressed to Purdue Calumet School of Technology Dean Niaz Latif their dire need for technologists who could design, build and service the type of complex, high speed machinery used in the packaging industry, Latif pondered the possibilities. He also pondered how even routine packaging of consumer items requires complex automated equipment and trained professionals to run the equipment.

What’s more, Latif learned the professionals that industry was hiring to handle the packaging equipment were mechanical and electrical engineering technology graduates retrained on the job.

There had to be a better way-and there was!

Working with Purdue Calumet’s School of Technology, Nick Wilson, president of Morrison Container Handling Solutions, served as the catalyst behind a partnership of industry leaders who helped Purdue Calumet faculty design the new curriculum in mechatronics engineering technology. The involved industry leaders also donated equipment for a training laboratory, in which students can put new knowledge to work on actual conveyor belts and programmable logic controllers. The new program, introduced last fall, combines instruction in electrical control and mechanical design.

“The industry needs engineering technologists who have skills in mechanical engineering technology and also electrical engineering technology,” Latif said. “So we came up with a program that combines those two skill sets but focused on the packaging industry, because in our greater Chicagoland area there is a tremendous need.”

The partner companies also have committed to providing some 70 to 100 internships to Purdue Calumet students. Additionally, one of the partners, Packaging Machinery Manufacturer’s Institute, has provided $5,000 in scholarships. The program also is supported by the National Science Foundation, which has awarded a grant to enhance courses and provide experiential learning opportunities.

“This is truly an example of an education-industry partnership,” Latif says.

Equine Management

Students interested in a business career in the horse industry now either can major in equine management while pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in Business degree, or enroll in a related, 18-credit hour online professional certificate.

Professor Lori Feldman, head of Purdue Calumet’s Department of Marketing, Human Resources and Management, says that in the absence of a business-focused equine education, those who run equine businesses are often horse lovers and animal science majors who tend to pick up business skills along the way. The result, many times, is a poorly run business that fails.

Associate Professor and Equine Management Program Coordinator Susan Connors, who has been involved with the equine business most of her life, has come to recognize firsthand how the industry has matured over the years and the growing need for professionals with a business background specific to the industry.

Despite the clamor for equine experts with business savvy, only one other equine management higher education academic program within an accredited school of business existed nationally until Purdue Calumet introduced its major and certificate programs last fall. That is a noteworthy shortcoming when one considers the equine industry has an estimated economic impact in Indiana of more than $1.3 billion. What’s more, northwest Indiana’s Lake County ranks a relatively lofty 13th out of 92 Indiana counties in the number of equine operations with about 90,000 individuals involved in the industry statewide.

Computer Information Systems

To reflect instruction that combines technology and business/management functions, the former Computer Technology baccalaureate degree program has given way to a reorganized program in Computer Information Systems (CIS).

The reorganization attempts to be responsive to the frequently interchangeable nature of business and technical careers, according to Professor Kuan C. Chen, head of the Department of Information Systems. Chen adds that the new program is designed to prepare graduates to better understand and more effectively contribute to all aspects of a technical business project in which they might be working. In the past, Chen says students learned about the project management end or the technical end, but not necessarily both.

The new program, made up of about 30 percent business courses, Chen says, is designed to open more job opportunity doors for both technical and management computer professionals. “It’s a technical, hands-on degree with plenty of business application,” Chen said. “It provides valuable, integrated knowledge for students with diverse, ambitious career goals.”

More specifically, the CIS degree focuses on design, implementation and integration of computer systems. It is intended to prepare graduates for jobs in hardware, software and telecommunications networks as programmers, system analysts, database analysts and project managers. It also will provide the necessary foundation for grads to move on to an MBA or master’s in technology program.

A related Management Information Systems (MIS) degree focuses more on systems management and business processes-preparing graduates for project management positions in the computer field.

Master of Science in Technology

This new graduate degree program is designed for individuals with supervisory and management responsibilities within a technical environment. The program provides flexibility such that students with a strong technical background can build their management skills and vice versa.

Latif says the program was about two years in the making in response both to the demands of local industry and Purdue Calumet technology graduates who cited a need for advanced level training. The program is designed to enrich leadership and technical skills within a technical environment.

The program seeks to be a better fit for professionals previously left to choose between MBA and master’s in engineering options.

Interdisciplinary in nature, the program offers customized study in areas of computer graphics technology; computer information technology; construction management and engineering technologies; electrical and computer engineering technology; industrial, mechanical and mechatronics engineering technology; and organizational leadership and supervision.

Human Development and Family Studies

With demand growing for programs, services and counseling that accommodate the elderly, preschoolers, families and individuals with special needs, the U.S. Department of Labor projects human services to be an expanding occupational field.

Professor of Psychology Sandra Singer says that while a bachelor’s degree in behavioral sciences disciplines prepares graduates for jobs in family, child and youth service agencies; Head Start programs; preschools; mental health centers; and group home facilities, an advanced degree is often necessary to qualify for leadership roles in social and human service organizations.

Without a related master’s degree, professionals either have remained stuck in current positions and passed over for promotions, or have had to consider inconvenient travel options in response to appropriate educational opportunities.

“We are responding to a very well defined need that has been communicated to us over the past 10 or 12 years by a lot of graduates who have bachelor’s degrees in psychology, sociology and human development, as well as heads of human and social service agencies,” Singer said. “Their request has been for a degree program at the master’s level that would prepare promising younger employees to be able to move up into administrative positions.”

With Singer serving as coordinator, Purdue Calumet introduced this spring a specialized master’s program in human development and family studies. In addition to preparing practitioners for leadership and career growth positions, the program offers an academic track for recent baccalaureate degree graduates to pursue graduate study at the master’s level.

MBA for Executives

According to Prof. Feldman, who directs Purdue Calumet’s Saturday MBA for Executives program, the changing world of business has prompted executives to expect more from an MBA program than quantitative knowledge. In response, Purdue Calumet revised its 18-month weekend program last fall to combine the same high level of quantitative rigor with more instruction in leadership through effective interpersonal competencies plus global issues.

“Companies are saying, ‘We will teach you some of the technical skills, but you need to come in with a broad perspective and be able to understand how to manage employees and understand the global and ethical issues that face us,'” Feldman said.

So in addition to marketing, accounting, finance, business law, economics and other traditional MBA staples, Purdue Calumet’s revamped curriculum includes instruction in international business, ethics, corporate governance, decision analytics, organizational behavior and leadership, negotiation and risk management, as well as leadership training and personal executive coaching in soft “people” skills.

In striving to improve a program that debuted in 1998, Purdue Calumet sought the input and expertise of successful business alumni, leaders of the university’s School of Management Advisory Board and other business professionals.

Online Graduate Nursing platform

To increase the number of short-supply, advanced-practice nurses, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services granted the Purdue Calumet School of Nursing a $436,000 grant to develop an online platform for its master’s degree nursing options-family nurse practitioner, clinical nurse specialist in adult health and critical care nursing-as well as post-master certificates in those options and nursing education.

Graduate Program Coordinator and Professor of Nursing Jane Walker said there is an increasing need for family nurse practitioners due to a demand for primary care in rural and medically underserved areas and a decline in the number of family practice physicians. She said hospital representatives from PUC’s School of Nursing Advisory Board also have expressed frustration in finding qualified nurses to fill clinical nurse specialist positions. Demand for master’s prepared nursing educators has increased as well.

Walker added that making an advanced nursing degree more accessible via an online platform, beginning this academic year, opens doors for local, regional and even national nurses to earn a degree that previously was inaccessible because of time and distance barriers.

Along with transforming curricula into a distance educational format, the grant is supporting development of innovative pod casts and training for faculty members to support students’ technological needs. A distance continuous improvement plan also is being implemented to ensure quality.

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