KETR

Student Preparedness as a Strategic Goal at TAMUC

Feb 19, 2020

TAMUC president Mark Rudin assists students with move-in day in August, 2019.

In the fall of 2019, Texas A&M University-Commerce published its 2019-2024 Strategic Plan. At only six pages, this polished full-color document is notably succinct and deserves to have its finer points explored beyond what appears on the page.

This is The President's Perspective, a podcast with the purpose of sharing what's important and what matters to the president and CEO of Texas A&M University-Commerce, Dr. Mark Rudin.

This is the first episode in a six-part initial series of podcasts aimed at diving deeper into Dr. Rudin's thinking with regard to the planning and execution of the day-to-day work of A&M-Commerce.

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A transcript of the episode follows.

Jerrod Knight:  This is the President's perspective, a podcast with the purpose of sharing what's important and what matters to the president and CEO of Texas A&M University-Commerce, Dr. Mark Rudin. I'm Jerrod Knight. We're beginning this project with a series dedicated to the 2019-2024 strategic plan adopted by A&M-Commerce. The plan spells out the vision and mission of the institution as well as its four foundational principles which are commitments to be: transformative, innovative, inclusive and sustainable. The plan itself is available online at tamuc.edu/strategicplan, and we'll link to it everywhere this podcast is available. Included in the plan are five strategic priorities and goals which are: student preparedness, elevate research, create an inclusive community, align our initiatives and transform our operations. Today we'll focus specifically on student preparedness. Dr. Rudin, it's good to visit with you.

Mark Rudin:  Jerrod, great to be here. Thanks so much for having me. 

JK:  So before we get into the text of the strategy and start to break it down, talk about what exemplifies a prepared student. 

MR: You know, I think sometimes in higher ed, we feel like the experiences they have in a classroom and the research, lab internships and so forth, that that suffices. That ends up preparing the student, I like to take it a step beyond that, you know, my previous job, I was the person responsible. This is at my previous institution. I was personally responsible for interacting with businesses and industry and potential employers of our graduates and having a dialogue with them saying, "Listen, I know that we are producing accountants, biologists and so forth. But tell me a little bit about these extra skills. How do we develop a more well rounded employment ready type of student?" And take what they had to say; things like: being able to work in groups, being able to communicate oral and written, being able to solve problems having these analytical type of skills, and taking those 21st century skills, which is kind of the buzz word, right? 

JK: Sure. 

MR: And taking that information and having that discussion with our, with our faculty and the folks that are teaching the classes, and seeing if we can start to lay out programs that do a great job preparing the best electrical engineer we possibly can, but perhaps augmented with some of these other skills, these 21st century skills that industry is so interested in seeing our students possess.

JK: So they like a graduate who knows how to work well in groups who understands things like time management, I mean, there's a lot of sort of tertiary aspects that make not only a good graduate, but a good employee. And, yeah, I've seen a lot of those come more into focus as of late there's In fact, the Student Access and Success Center on the campus of A&M-Commerce, I know had focused and has been focusing a lot on making sure that students are taking care of all the non-classroom things in addition to their classroom work.

MR: Absolutely, absolutely. You know, I think we're we're a little bit ahead of the game at A&M-Commerce is when I go out and talk to industry this this short, you know, I've been here about a year or so but talking to industry about our graduates. And I bet I've heard this two three dozen times, that our graduates possess the skill of a great work ethic. I can't tell you how proud I am to be part of institution that's producing graduates like that. And that is a reflection I think, on our campus, particularly our faculty, a  real stick-to-it-iveness right that the the blue collar kind of approach, whether it's a white collar job or a blue collar job, and I think that that sets our graduates apart, it's something that's recognized and what a tremendous skill asset to have coming out of our institution, regardless of discipline, regardless of area of study. I'm really, really happy about that.

JK: These students are going out into the world ready to work.

MR: Absolutely. And work and work hard, right, right. And that's not always - you don't see that as often, I guess, as you would hope, but certainly see it in A&M-Commerce grads.

JK: So in the text of the strategy here, as it relates directly to the strategic plan, this is the 2019-2024 strategic plan, so this is the over the next five years, this strategy is to provide a transformative and experiential education that prepares students for a rapidly changing world. I don't mean to be flippant about this, we don't really have a crystal ball. But we can look back, you know, in the recent memory and see where there were full on course strategies that were being offered five years ago, 10 years ago, in fields that are all but obsolete now. And we are talking about preparing students for jobs that don't even exist today. Right?

MR: Absolutely, absolutely. But I'll give you a good example of that, again, speaking with industry. Let's take an example of electrical engineer. All right. I think I think in the past there have been some folks that have that have studied and got a degree in a technical area like electrical engineering, and afterwards said, "You know what, I want to go back for an MBA." Okay. And I think hearing from industry they're a little bit cool on that idea. Now I think that's - MBA used to be the hot thing, right? Online MBA and in fact, A&M-Commerce was a pioneer of the of the online MBA within Texas. But I think  there's been a shift of thought on that. I think it's a little bit more about, yeah, we, the industry saying it would be nice to have your technical folks like students, electrical engineers, to have some MBA, but is there any way we can incorporate a business savvy, a business readiness type of sequence within their within their academic undergraduate degree? So imagine taking you know you have a core set of core requirements for an undergraduate (can't do anything about that that's mandated by Texas state,) a core of required Electrical engineering classes. Let's knock that out of the park. Let's produce the best technically sound electrical engineer we can. But then you have these electives out here. Is there an opportunity to respond to industry and be able to remove or pluck out some of these undergraduate electives and replaced them with business readiness courses that would augment that electrical engineers degree? And you know, you mentioned how do you how do you keep abreast of what's changing out there? And I really do believe Jerrod, it's it's a matter - and I don't want to oversimplify this, but it really is a matter of just having the dialogue. Right, what do you see? What does industry see five years from now? You know, again, what I'm hearing is a little bit less emphasis on the MBA, maybe a little more emphasis on industry coming in and say, "You know what, Jerrod, a great employee, we're not going to send you back to A&M-Commerce for an MBA, but we know your job is shifted into, let's say, data analytics. Let's send you back for a graduate certificate in data analytics. Let's send you through a core sequence of three or four courses that drill down and really provide your expertise in that area come back and apply that on the job and do it at a quicker and a more reasonable cost associated with that degree program."

Texas A&M University-Commerce president Dr. Mark Rudin

JK: Remember not too many years ago, whenever you mentioned that the shift is kind of moving away from the tacked on MBA later that there was sort of this trend. I think it was a nationwide trend, where employers were talking about taking some of their employees who wanted to progress like it was sort of a management track, and even helping to offset the cost to send those employees back for an MBA program. But it sounds now like when we're taking stock of - when industry is taking stock when it needs perhaps it's looking more in the skills bucket rather than in the degrees bucket.

MR: Absolutely. Skill development. Right? Having a dialogue with industry, understanding what skills they need and our graduates or students they send back to A&M-Commerce for additional training & education and making that happen. You know, I would say this that I think there's, I really still do think there is a place and an important place for an MBA degree. My son right now graduated in computer science is going on for his MBA, because it complements what he's trying to do for his career. Right? But now, there's a lot of different options, a lot of things that you can pick and choose and start to craft and customize your own educational experience, again, to make you successful in the workplace.

JK: I think there's, too, there are priors that folks who maybe aren't spending all of their time inside what I might call an academic bubble for illustrative purposes, who maybe think, you know, "Well, an MBA is what you get if what you're trying to do is run the company one day, or you know, if you want to if you want to, you know, go beyond whatever the you know basics are." I think that the shift toward skills rather than degrees is upending that a little bit that assumption that, you know, particularly for folks on the outside just say, oh, you're going back for an MBA, you must be trying to run the company. It's like, No, no, it's because there are some things I'd like to be proficient in. And going back to pick up those skills, those classes.

MR: Absolutely. And again, it goes back to customizing your academic career, your academic degree plan. I go back to my son, if he wanted to run a company, would I suggest he goes on for an MBA? Maybe. But  would I also suggest maybe going on for a master's in management, or a graduate certificate in management that could, again, develop those skills, put it in his toolkit and move them along his career and I guess that's a case-by-case, person-by-person consideration.

JK: And another positive, too, is in 2019, and moving forward, if an undergraduate student, once they graduate, they decide not to pursue a master's program immediately, it seems now that we've made it, we've removed barriers to entry across the board so that they can do that at any point in their future, in their career, between careers. They can come back and pick that up as well. So when you talk about fully customizable educational experience you're talking about over the course of a lifetime as well.

MR: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. You know, Jerrod, if I go back to the undergraduate experience, you know, because one of the words you said in there was, "experiential." It isn't just classroom, it isn't just field, it isn't just studio learning. There's an opportunity to apply your skills during the undergraduate career in a business setting, industry setting. And internships are one way to do that. I'm very happy with the way our faculty across all disciplines I know we focus a lot on business but across all disciplines are creating meaningful, value-added internships for their students throughout their undergraduate career. And so I can't tell you how important that is, in the personal development of that student. You know, I continue to challenge and I think our faculty, I believe our faculty have been receptive to the challenge to constantly think out of the box. What's next? What's next in terms of an experience as part of your undergraduate degree at A&M-Commerce? One of the things we're tossing around right now, and I went down this road in a past job and I want to pursue this now. You know, you think about 20% of the workforce, and that's a rough number. I can't I gotta be honest with you. I don't know what the exact numbers but about 20% of our workforce works remotely. Okay, they don't report, punch the time clock going into work, they work from home, or they work from some remote location. The traditional internship would be, "Jerrod, we're gonna we're gonna have you go to a company, you're going to report there during the summertime every day or find some time during the week during the semester to make that happen." If, if the expectation is not always that someone's there, maybe this 20% that is not there, let's start thinking about virtual internships. So if Jerrod Knight is a computer science major at A&M-Commerce, think about the possibilities of perhaps doing an internship with Google, but still do it within the confines of your room, and your residence hall. And really create special opportunities there. An internship at Google would look pretty nice on a resume, whether you're in there in person or doing it remotely. So other opportunities there to think out of the box, and, you know, be a little more contemporary and how we approach our business here.

JK: And I think, too, in the field that I that I did choose, which was not computer science, it was I don't know if that's for better or worse, but definitely, in the field of broadcast, the opportunity like an internship, I know, would have been phenomenal. I consider myself blessed to have found an actual paid job while I was in school to be able to do that. Now, a lot of internships are kind of going the paid route. But the point of the story is being able to work shoulder to shoulder with professionals to be able to do the job. And if the job is not necessarily in person, it's obviously possible to work virtually shoulder to shoulder with professionals in order to get that experience that you need. So that whenever you walk in the door, you're not and somebody goes, "Have you ever done this?" The answer doesn't have to be, "No, but I've seen it in a textbook."

MR: And I've heard folks say, "Well, that's not a great experience. I mean, where do you start developing the working with a team and and being able to interact with people?" 20% of the workforce is already there, right? They figured it out. I think to the people that are not so excited about this opportunity for our students, I would say that 20% of the workforce is Skyping in every day. They're reporting and completing deliverables every day by email. They're having a lot of interaction. It's just a different way that they're interacting with their peers at the company than perhaps you and I did when we were going through our career. 

JK: And I will tell you, we kind of are now! We've got this, you know, virtual workspaces like Slack and non standard work hours and deliverables that are that are coming in overnight so that you've got something to work on in the morning. And folks can kind of work on it when they're able, and they're doing, you know, just as good a job as they would have done. They're just - if they're not sitting in the office, they might actually have some time to kind of let it breathe a little bit and turn it into something, you know. So I think there's, you know, there's value, I'm going to know that we can't, we're going to go on wax on about the positives of a, you know, not having to go to the office. But the point of the story is that people are working a lot of different ways, and the institutions being responsive to that and developing those skills.

MR: Absolutely.

JK: We also have a bullet here under the strategy of student preparedness, "Pursuing academic excellence, new and enhanced programs, innovative pedagogies, and then engaging environment for learning to increase student retention and success," and I think that we covered that talking about the idea of the internships and finally here, "collaborating with internal and external partners to increase student research opportunities and career readiness." And I know not to use it, almost like a Pavlovian bell. But I know when we talk research that your eyes start to sparkle a little bit, and I know that we've baked that into this strategy. 

MR: Oh, absolutely. You know, and I, when you bring that up, it just makes me think how hard our engineering college is working on that interaction with industry and creating those experiences and had a number of nice meetings with Dean Brent Donham, dean of our college, and you know, oftentimes in these engineering and computer science disciplines, there is a senior design project where team gets together and solves problems. What a tremendous opportunity for us to reach out to industry find out what their problems are, that this student team could take on. Can you imagine the experience gathered and and and what kind of opportunities that would present for our students? Those are the kind of interactions. That's when I want to say, "Collaborate with the outside and inside folks and really create meaningful, again, value-added experiences for our students that are solving real life problems and industry." And I can't think of a better opportunity for our students.

JK: I can think of so many of these one off stories where somebody was a part of something or the other as part of their learning experience, I was connected with a person, a friend of mine back in school, who had an opportunity to do an internship with NASA. And there were some opportunities that she had to be a part of some very real, in some cases, tragic events, but were there she was seeing, you know, moment to moment how these things are dealt with, you know, with obviously, the most recognizable name in space in the universe, to our knowledge, and this whole deal, set her up to sort of understand how all that works. And who's going to say, you know, how do you deal with crisis management, and you have that, you know, sitting in your toolbox, going, "Well, there was this one time..." That sort of stuff, where students have an opportunity to work shoulder to shoulder with professionals, it doesn't necessarily limit the focus on classroom learning. I use the phrase a lot whenever we have students come into the broadcast arena, that we are a place for you to practically apply your classroom skills. Learn it in the classroom, and then bring it here and show us what you know, show us what you know to do, and get the experience because like I said, being able to recite it, rote memorization is one thing, but having already developed a little bit of muscle memory is something else.

MR: Oh, absolutely. You know, I also use the words collaborate with internal internal folks too. And so I have nothing set certain in my mind right now. But I, you know, I gave an example. You know, I gotta go back to CS because I'm kind of using my brain and my son back in here but I can speak from experience in that. CS was his major, but that was not his passion. His passion was music. So is there an opportunity to to collab at a place like A&M-Commerce? Is there an opportunity to take what our students are learning in a discipline and have that interaction and collaborative spirit across disciplines? Can you imagine someone who is a talented CS major that has this passion for music and where the world is right now in terms of everything's digital? App development, whatever you want to call it. Let's see if we can again, I'm sorry to overuse this word, but customize degree programs that make sense for students and allow them to pursue not just their degree, but their passions.

JK: So we've gone over what we are talking about whenever you read, "Student Preparedness," in this strategic plan. Dr. Rudin, thank you so much.

MR: Thank you so much for having me. Very excited about this.

JK: So The Presidents Perspective is produced by 88.9 KETR from the campus of Texas A&M University-Commerce. Episodes are online at ketr.org. While you're there, consider making a contribution to support public radio for northeast Texas - click the donate button at the top of the page. I'm Jerrod Knight. Thanks for listening.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai