Students prepare for rapidly changing world of technology

Kesha Williams
February 13, 2012

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Take a look at North Carolina's occupational trends, and you will find rosy forecasts for jobs that require advanced skills with computers and math.

According to the state's Employment Security Commission, job openings in those fields are expected to increase through 2016.

Dr. Kuldeep S. Rawat, chairperson of the Department of Technology at Elizabeth City State University, says department faculty and staff are well equipped to train students for the jobs of the future. Students in the department can earn a bachelor of science degree in engineering technology, industrial technology and aviation science. Graduates are prepared for careers in a variety of technical disciplines, including computer networking, computer integrated manufacturing, electronics and computer technology, avionics, flying, airport management, air traffic control, and mechanical and automation technology. The technology program is accredited by the Association of Technology, Management, and Applied Engineering (ATMAE).

Expectations for graduates are high. Employers want new hires to have not only the technical skills related to those jobs, but good communication skills, work adaptability and a continuous motivation to learn.

"We work closely with our Industrial Advisory Committees that provide us with valuable input into what employers are looking for and changes that should be incorporated in the programs to make our graduates more marketable," Rawat said.

It all starts with the faculty developing a model to assess each academic program in the department, he said. "Each course syllabus clearly identifies the course competencies for that course. These competencies map the program competencies."

Industry experts serving on the department's advisory committees review the programs and provide advice to enhance the programs, further building students' readiness for work upon graduation.

Technology department faculty members also are encouraged to write grant proposals for essential funding for upgrading laboratory equipment, supplementing lab supplies and providing opportunities for students to work on faculty research projects. Most of the faculty members have at least one currently funded grant. They also have used grants to acquire licenses for the latest software tools.

The department has state-of-the-art laboratories -- Cisco networking lab; Control Systems lab; general purpose computing lab; CNC/rapid prototyping lab; robotics lab; electronics and microcontroller lab; mechanical technology lab; PC support lab; air traffic control lab; flight simulator lab; and high-performance cloud-computing unit.

Last year, Rawat developed a remote laboratory that allows students to conduct laboratory exercises via Internet. The project was funded through a technology innovation grant from the Thurgood Marshall College Fund with the U.S. Department of Energy. By fall 2012, the remote lab allowed students to access lab material related to five of the department's courses. Students can access the department's remote lab from any location, any time of day. Students also have access to some of the most current computer interactive devices that are common to professionals in their industry.

While at ECSU, students receive hands-on experience with industry-grade equipment, simulators and software tools. A follow-up survey of graduates is conducted every five years to learn how former students have benefitted from their education in the department. Rawat says the survey yielded a very positive response from the department's graduates.

Students are encouraged to earn at least one industry-grade certification while working on their degree at ECSU. A resource lab equipped with certification material is available for students who wish to prepare for certification exams. Internships also are strongly encouraged to give technology students a clear and accurate view of the types of jobs they can perform in the future. Students have interned with government and state university research laboratories, Exxon Mobile Corp., Cisco Systems Inc., the North Carolina Department of Transportation, the U.S. Coast Guard and the Federal Aviation Administration.

Internships, Rawat says, are key components to students' education. Technology changes so rapidly that students must be aware of the height of challenges in jobs within various industries.

"Several of our students have been fortunate enough to complete summer internships which did not interfere with their normal routine of taking full-time courses at ECSU in the fall and spring," Rawat said. "Internships can give them an edge when seeking full-time employment. Students can use that opportunity to network with interns from other universities and to establish relationships with people who are currently doing the jobs students aspire to hold."