Sunday, November 11, 2012
Careers in the RJ
By BRIAN SODOMA
Posted: Nov. 11, 2012 | 2:07 a.m.
Michael Spangler isn't just a fan of Archie Johnson on the TV show "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation." The geek character that helps get to the bottom of complicated cases by using his technology skills is also a model for a certain type of student Spangler is looking for these days. His Electronic Crime Investigation program, a part of the College of Southern Nevada's Computer and Information Technology division, is only about a year-and-a-half old and has already attracted 60 students into the program.
"How I explain the program to people, I just say 'We make Archie's,' " the dean of the school of Advanced & Applied Technologies at CSN said.
But more importantly, Spangler also said the associate degree program isn't only about crime scene work. There are commercial applications as well. Graduates can get into data security and other work, as there is a huge computer networking, network security and software integrity component to the program as well.
The same flexibility can be seen at the school's tried-and-true slot repair technician associate degree offering. Spangler said the school has changed the program extensively through the years to adapt to emerging technologies that are becoming more common in many different types of machines. An ATM, slot machine and gas station pump all have many of the same elements like bill slots, touch-screens, LEDs, these days, he explained.
"The gaming technician is somebody who is first and foremost an electronics person," he added. "It's also a very high preparation degree with lots of requirements in math, science and physics. It's a high-demand field that not everyone can handle."
Spangler's example of adding programs and tweaking existing ones is a constant for the education world, and perhaps more so today than ever. With employers evaluating needs and efficiencies, colleges are keeping their eyes and ears open for evolving fields. And some programs that would seem, on the surface, to be very low profile and low demand also could be hot commodities or could be merged with other programs to provide multiple skill sets for graduates.
CSN's floral design program, for example, which has been offered at the school for many years, is now being considered for a partnership with a small business management curriculum, Spangler said.
"When we polled students, one of the things they told us is that about two-thirds want to go into business for themselves. This could be a really good entrepreneurial pathway for florists," the dean added.
Even still, the program, which is housed in the Summerlin High Tech Center, is not to be mistaken for simply a hobbyist academy. The program emphasizes the production aspect of floral design, or the "hospitality approach," as Spangler said. Floral departments are required in many resorts that aspire to AAA Five-Diamond ratings, the dean said. The program has classes on everything from balloon making to computer-aided graphic design, architecture and interior design. Floral design boasts 80 to 100 majors at any given time, he added.
More discipline mixing
College leaders also contend with a job market that seems to want specialized talent but also the jack-of-all trades. Schools are forced to make some programs specific, yet flexible to give students more options after graduation.
One example can be seen in the entertainment engineering design offering at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. The Howard Hughes College of Engineering, between its mechanical, electrical, computer and other engineering majors, boasts a solid job placement record in tough times. Interim Dean Rama Venkat said students are being hired before walking across the commencement stage.
But the college also took a gamble when it started an entertainment engineering design program five years ago. The new offering merges fine arts instruction and engineering disciplines with the goal of having graduates pursue entertainment production positions in live entertainment on the Strip and elsewhere.
The program is divided into two tracks, one with a greater engineering focus and another with a heavier fine arts curriculum, said Joe Aldridge, the program's coordinator. Six students have graduated so far. But there are about 100 students in it now and a more regular slate of annual graduates coming up the ranks.
Both tracks still emphasize the technical, Aldridge added. And anyone who gets the degree could probably take a test for an engineering credential if he or she wanted to.
"You have a really good foundation in mechanical, civil, electrical and computer (engineering)," he said. "They're not taking a survey course in rock 'n' roll history. These students are having their feet held to the fire. ... There have been some who said 'Wow, this is harder than I thought.' "
But even if students do stick with the entertainment side of things, there are plenty of opportunities in theaters around the world, cruise ships, theme parks, houses of worship, even Broadway, Aldridge added. The longtime UNLV theater department professor said the program attracts its share of out-of-state residents, but has also piqued the attention of locals.
"I've been here since 1974 and I've seen my share of students who couldn't wait to leave Las Vegas. I'm glad we're giving them a reason to stay," he said.
CSN's new facilities technician associate degree is a newly formed program that also offers students a broad mix of skills to help with marketability. The program teaches a mix of disciplines that all apply to maintaining a building.
Crafted in partnership with the Nevada Professional Facilities Manager Association, the program gives graduates insights into systems like plumbing, air conditioning, electrical, even welding, so that a technician can provide a wide range of work offerings to a site. The average salary for a facilities technician is about $44,000, according to employment website Indeed.com.
"This is actually a good place for someone who is displaced by the construction industry to help them retool for an area of higher demand," Spangler said.
Specializing to broaden
Sometimes advancing a specific technology could be the answer to creating more industries around it. UNLV's engineering college is in the process of developing courses and further research study around accelerator technology. Accelerators can be best explained as high-tech X-rays used in cargo screening applications. Accelerators can find nuclear and other materials in security situations, explained Venkat.
The research was born out of a partnership between UNLV and local Varian Medical Systems. The university created a prototype accelerator machine. The goal now is to study the technology further to find other applications for it beyond security. Researchers also have used accelerators to help create medical isotopes, which could be applied to biomedicine, radiopharmaceutical environments, among others.
"The technology and science has been there, but the curriculum and application is emerging. We need to develop a workforce in that area," Venkat said.
Specialization isn't foreign to the community college level either. And sometimes even specialized programs can fit niche needs now that could be stepping stones to other careers. Gilda DeGuzman, a manager with Las Vegas' Davita Dialysis Center and lead instructor in CSN's hemodialysis technician program, said the recently started certificate program is an example of how a student can start in a field where there is great job security and good benefits and move onto other areas of the medical field.
The certificate program requires 80 hours of instruction, which are usually completed in the first three months, according to DeGuzman. Another 210 hours of clinical time also is required. Upon hire, graduates must also complete a national hemodialysis technician test administered by the Nephrology Nursing Certification Commission. The average salary for a hemodialysis technician is about $33,000, according to Salary.com.
The work involves working with end-of-life patients and requires a certain personality with patience and understanding, DeGuzman added. She has been in the field herself since 1981.
The new program currently has six students in it and has a cap of 12. DeGuzman said it is not so much about how big the program will get, but instead serving a small but important need in the medical field and possibly opening the door to a broader medical career down the road for graduates.
"This can be a stepping stone for something else, and you'll never really lose your job unless you really want to," she added.
There are other certificate programs that are growing in popularity and can serve as a first step into the medical field. Janet Kent, executive director of the Las Vegas campus for Carrington College, recently added a medical billing and coding certification program as well as a medical assistant certificate offering to her school.
The school uses conversations with area employers, Bureau of Labor Statistics and other sources to gain insight into growing fields. A medical coder's average salary is about $43,000 and medical assistants show an average salary of about $42,000, according to Indeed.com. Carrington students benefit from a four-week externship experience that could result in a job after completing school.
"We tell students to look at it as a four-week interview process. Make it so that they don't want to let you go," Kent said.
Core education like reading, writing and math also is seeing its share of changes. Carl Reiber, UNLV's vice provost of academic affairs, said the school's general education curriculum has undergone an extensive shift in the past five years.
Under some of UNLV's changes, students now see a first-year seminar course looking at issues like ethics, critical thinking, source evaluation, educational outcomes, among others. Disciplines will explore the topics as they relate to their respective fields. But if a student changes majors, he or she doesn't need to retake the seminar class, Reiber said.
"Basically we want to get students comfortable with the expectations of the nature of UNLV rigors and academic expectations," he said.
A second-year seminar course is currently being created. But Reiber said the emphasis will be on critical thinking and communication. He uses the past world literature survey course as a possible template. But now, the new courses will choose literary works most applicable to a field of study.
A third-year "milestone experience" where students are introduced to the basic concepts of their chosen discipline is being created as well. The fourth year will include a "culminating experience," sometimes referred to as a "capstone project" by some colleges.
In programs like nursing, for example, final licensing examinations can count for the culminating experience. But in areas like fine arts, where a license exam is not needed, a student might work with a faculty member on a theater project, for example.
The dean also said a greater emphasis on reading and writing throughout the curriculum is now present. There are also added elements like study skills and time budgeting in classes. And instructors are encouraged to talk about success in the workplace and academic expectations.
"We are, as a university, training future professionals and they have to know how to be successful in the world," he said. "What happened is that we made a lot of assumptions that students just knew these things. Well they don't. ... It's an issue nationally. Students are not picking up those skills before coming to the university."
Core education changes also fall into specific colleges and programs. Carolyn Yucha, UNLV's nursing school dean, said her program has seen more than its share of curriculum revisions through the years. Most are in response to growing trends in the field. Of late, patient safety has been a major topic of discussion at professional conferences, she said.
"It's not like we didn't have that in our classes, but now we're seeing we need to highlight it more," Yucha said.
A few years ago, the school also added a simulation center where, prior to clinical work experience, there are mock emergency situations. The idea behind the center was more than creating a simulated nursing experience. It also was a chance for future nurses to work with other disciplines. Medical residents also are involved in the drills.
"Nurses graduate and know how to be nurses but they also need to learn about the roles others have in the work environment," Yucha said.