Institutions of higher learning are oriented toward fulfilling the needs of people seeking to enroll in degree programs. But what about people who are unclear about which – if any – higher education path to pursue? Or individuals seeking to explore new skills and opportunities? How can universities help people in career transitions gain greater clarity and direction about their way forward?
Northeastern is answering those questions with an innovative program called the Interdisciplinary Graduate Certificate in Professional Studies – or iCert, for short.
“We’re discovering that people want a more flexible way to build and design their academic opportunities – and going for a degree is not always the right answer for them,” said Elizabeth Mahler, EdD, Assistant Teaching Professor in the Graduate School of Education and Lead Faculty for the iCert Concentration. “This is our response to the workplace and the just-in-time learning needs of 21st century learners.”
The iCert Program bills itself as a “first-of-its-kind customizable program that puts you in charge of your own learning.” That flexibility is important for empowering students and accommodating the broad range of prospective students, and it reflects the philosophy of the university’s Professional Advancement Network.
“We have people who are not sure what they want to do, people who have some targeted needs, people in transition who are exploring new opportunities and don’t want to commit to a program of studies that may or may not work for them,” said Dr. Mahler. “This way, they get credit and a credential for the courses they take.”
The program begins with the Foundations course, which challenges students to reflect on their abilities and interests, assess their skills, identify the competencies they need to develop, and select courses from a list of 34 options. The program is self-directed; students create their own Professional Learning Plan to chart their next steps.
During their coursework, students have the opportunity to develop multidisciplinary workplace competencies in communications, creative problem solving, cultural responsiveness, leadership, lifelong learning, management, systems thinking, and technological proficiency.
The final Capstone course is an experiential learning opportunity working with an organizational sponsor for 30 to 40 hours on a virtual project in a field of their choice. Graduates of the program earn an Interdisciplinary Graduate Certificate in Professional Studies, 16 credits, and a head start toward one of 10 master’s degree programs.
While the iCert Program is primarily targeted toward individuals, Dr. Mahler also sees the program as an opportunity to provide a vital service to organizations.
“Organizations that may be on the smaller side and don’t have the capacity to do training and leadership development within the organization will also be able to develop a pathway for their employees to go through,” she said.
To Dr. Mahler, the iCert Program fills an unmet need in the educational landscape.
“The best learning and decision-making take place when people have time to be reflective,” said Dr. Mahler. “What’s most exciting to me about the iCert Program is that it gives students a gift of time to do just that. The reflective aspect built into the course enables students to think about their short and long term goals, connect these goals to what they’re learning, and to investigate how their own skills align with different work roles and potential job requirements.”
To learn more about the iCert Program, visit here.