Preparing for Careers of the Future

by Deb Clay
College Knowledge

How are students to prepare for the future in such a rapidly changing world?

As I work with high school students and their parents, I see the stress levels that go with considering college majors and career paths. Many students feel like they have to know what they will do for the rest of their lives. While it’s great to be one of the 10 percent or so who know their path at a young age and follow it, most people find a few more twists and turns on their own career path.

In today’s rapidly changing world, many individuals work in fields that didn’t even exist 10 years ago. So how is a student to prepare for the future? Higher education is an institution that can be slow to change, and at times is challenged to keep up with employment needs. But here are a few examples of Midwestern colleges and universities working to prepare students for careers of the future.

Learning About the Brain
Knowledge about the human brain has exploded as new imaging techniques have provided extremely detailed pictures of the living brain. Neuroscience used to be only a graduate-level program, but surveys conducted by the Society for Neuroscience have shown tremendous growth in the number of schools offering undergraduate programs.

Neuroscience has become a popular major for pre-med students, uniting the fields of psychology and biology, and drawing from biochemistry, chemistry, computer science, mathematics, philosophy and linguistics. In Galesburg, Knox College has been on the leading edge of undergrad neuroscience programs, introducing interdisciplinary coursework in the early 1990s, adding a behavioral neuroscience minor in 2002, then establishing an undergraduate major and minor that integrates the behavioral and cellular/molecular aspects of neuroscience.

Game Design and the User Experience
Many of the students that attended the FUSE interactive showcase at the Peoria Riverfront Museum in April were drawn by an interest in game design, a program being added by many colleges in response to strong student interest. Bradley’s undergrad game design major, for example, is rated 12th in the U.S. by The Princeton Review. Along with the little known major of User Experience (UX) design, it’s housed in the Interactive Media Department, which produced the FUSE event.

If you mention UX in the San Francisco Bay area or New York City, people might respond with “great field.” Here in the Midwest, while digital technology communities in St. Louis and Chicago are growing, many remain unaware of this relatively new, high-demand field.

In this case, Bradley is on the leading edge. UX design majors at Bradley are required to minor (or double-major) in either graphic design or computer science, since UX positions are often the bridge between the two. Part marketer, part designer, part project manager, the UX role is complex, challenging and multi-faceted. Ultimately, the aim is to connect business goals to user needs through a process of testing and refinement that satisfies both sides of the relationship. The responsibilities of a UX designer, which usually involves developing digital products, include:

  • Strategy and content: competitive research, user research, product structure/strategy and content development;
  • Wireframing and prototyping: testing/iteration, development and planning; and
  • Execution and analytics: coordination with business stakeholders and developers, tracking goals and integration, and iteration based on user feedback.

The Era of Big Data
Clearly one of the most in-demand fields for the future involves turning data into insight. Undergraduate programs are popping up in many universities under the names of informatics, business analytics and data science. According to the Data Science Association: “The data scientist has a solid foundation in machine learning, algorithms, modeling, statistics, analytics, math and strong business acumen, coupled with the ability to communicate findings to both business and IT leaders in a way that can influence how an organization approaches a business challenge.”

At Indiana University-Bloomington, a bachelor’s degree in informatics is housed in the College of Informatics and Computing, which also offers undergrad programs in computer science and intelligent systems engineering. Case Western Reserve University offers a major in data science and analytics, located within the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.

Denison University takes a different perspective, offering a data analytics program coupled with the liberal arts. According to Adam Weinberg, university president, “A liberal arts background gives data analytics its soul.” Denison’s program provides a strong foundation in math and computer science, but emphasizes a critical contribution of a liberal arts background: the ability to frame questions. Getting the right answer to the wrong question means the answer is irrelevant. At Denison, students take the skills learned in the classroom and practice them in a professional setting through a required summer internship and senior capstone project, helping to ready them for future careers. iBi

Debra Clay is an independent college consultant, helping Peoria-area students find colleges and careers where they will thrive. Learn more at ClayCollegeKnowledge.com.

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