Michael Amiridis began his role as president of the University of South Carolina with an ambitious vision and hefty checklist of goals. One of his top priorities: ensuring that all students, regardless of major or class standing, would have the opportunity to graduate equipped with the skills to succeed in their future careers.
Provost Donna Arnett shared Amiridis’ desire to supplement undergraduate education with career skills training, and the pair devised four general job-ready skill sets based on national research. They then turned over their idea to the Interdisciplinary Advisory Committee, a group of dean-nominated faculty representatives from across each school and college on campus, to create certificates corresponding to the skill sets. The committee worked in close partnership with their respective colleagues and leadership to develop the learning outcomes and course offerings for each certificate.
In fall 2023, the committee rolled out its first certificate program, digital studies. The next three — data analytics and visualization, project leadership and management, and strategic thinking and communication — will launch in spring 2024.
“These certificates are going to bring an additional layer of education that students sometimes have to learn on the job when they initially come into a company or business,” says Shelley Dempsey, assistant provost for graduation and retention and co-chair of the Interdisciplinary Advisory Committee. “These certificates will add that and give them an edge above other candidates for the position.”
Following is more detail about the opportunities available to students in a variety of fields.
Data Analytics and Visualization
Data in its raw form is everywhere, from social media post statistics to sales records to location data. And in the modern workforce, making decisions pivots around these critical markers of engagement, money flow and product use. The problem? Without knowledge of how to analyze raw data, it’s nothing but strings of facts and figures.
That’s where the data analytics and visualization certificate aims to fill in the gaps. As part of this certificate program, students will learn how to visualize data, practicing converting abstract output into formats that can be easily understood by industry colleagues and leaders. They will develop the skills to analyze trends, insights and patterns to create evidence-backed action plans. With the ubiquity of data, this certificate provides basic training that can supplement any career path.
Project Leadership and Management
Another critical skill, in high demand but often learned on the job, is project leadership and management. Students who enter the workforce with extracurricular leadership positions may have an edge in experience, but this spring, any student interested in building the skill set will have a new way to practice managing individuals and projects.
“Working across individuals, being able to keep multiple lanes moving toward the same goals in a company is very important, so we knew that students who completed this certificate would have that overarching skill set of team management,” says Dempsey.
Whether a student has a background in the humanities or STEM, this certificate program will prepare them to enter a company ready to implement best practices for managing teams and steering projects.
Strategic Thinking and Communication
While the other two certificate programs releasing in the spring are focused on outward-facing skills students can use in their future workplaces, the strategic thinking and communication certificate program has more of a personal development emphasis. The aim of this program is to create an internal change, transforming students’ ability to communicate effectively and think about how to be a more strategic leader.
With the ability to not only envision strategic goals but also to persuasively articulate those plans to relevant stakeholders, a student with this certificate will be equipped with skills that set them apart from candidates seeking similar positions.
With over 140 students working toward their digital studies certificates and 20 students graduating from the program in the fall, the interdisciplinary certificate initiative is already bearing fruit. As the new certificate programs roll out, many more students stand to gain from the competitive advantage of skill training and official transcript recognition.
“Developing these certificates was truly a collaborative process that demonstrates a culture of shared governance and collaboration at USC. University leadership, faculty, and our professional staff all want what’s best for our students, and this initiative demonstrates that desire,” says Karen Edwards, interim associate dean for academic programs in the College of Hospitality, Retail and Sport Management and member of the Interdisciplinary Advisory Committee. “We’re confident that the skills students acquire through the new undergraduate certificates will help them secure key jobs in their fields, at premium pay, and to contribute significant value to their employers’ organizations starting the first day on the job.”