NOVA and Mason Roundtable Aims to Build Better Education-to-Career Pathways

Posted: January 18, 2019
University and employer participants at roundtable discussing education-to-career pathways.
University and employer participants at roundtable discussing education-to-career pathways.

by Elizabeth Gillooly

In another important step forward for their ADVANCE partnership, George Mason University and Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA) hosted the “ADVANCE Faculty-Industry Roundtable: Building Education-to-Career Pathways in Health and Tech” on Dec. 17 at George Mason’s Fairfax Campus. The event brought together Mason and NOVA faculty and industry representatives with the goal of better aligning academic programs with emerging industry needs.

The roundtable was the first in a series of education-industry meetings coordinated through the support of a Collaborative Opportunity Grant. Awarded by the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) and the Coalition of Urban Serving Universities (USU), and funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the $50,000 grant supports university projects that support student success through partnerships with community stakeholders. Mason was one of only eight institutions selected in 2018 to receive the grant, which was awarded specifically in recognition of ADVANCE.

Launched this fall, ADVANCE is a NOVA-Mason partnership designed to help thousands of students attain bachelor’s degrees and launch successful careers. The initiative guides students from NOVA to Mason through targeted curricular pathways and into high demand disciplines. Initial pathway offerings are in the fields of education, health, and technology—all areas in which employers have indicated there is a need for skilled workers.

More than 40 companies were represented at the event—including the Mitre Corporation, Deloitte, SAIC, Amazon, Inova Health System and Sunrise Senior Living. “We recognize the importance of developing relationships with the business community,” said Janette Muir, associate provost for academic initiatives and services at Mason and one of the event’s hosts. “We want our students to walk into the doors of these companies—and others—being the best prepared and effective employees.”

The roundtable focused on assessing necessary employer skill sets in the health and technology sectors, with an eye toward both identifying and bridging knowledge gaps. Participants spent the afternoon identifying specific skills and competencies and designing meaningful experiential learning opportunities. They also explored ways to embed critical workplace skills and learning in ADVANCE degree pathways to ensure that students graduate with not only the necessary technical skills, but also the soft skills—including communication tools and techniques, office protocol, business development and team building.

The roundtable session proved to be a fruitful start to what will be a series of engagements, all funded by the grant, that allow partners from Mason, NOVA, and employers to engage in sessions that allow for networking and for ensuring that the curricula reflect key competencies that employers desire. Plans for future events are already in the works, and faculty and industry representatives agreed to provide seminars to students on a variety of topics.

“Learning about real world work scenarios and meeting potential future employers as an undergraduate will be a wonderful networking opportunity for our students,” said Karen Underwood, academic manager with Mason’s Department of Computational and Data Sciences. “This feels like the start of something very worthwhile for all.”

Read more about the Collaborative Opportunity Grant.

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