Illumination by Modern Campus

Kristen Vanselow (Florida Gulf Coast University) on Cultivating Future Professionals through Microcredentials

January 04, 2024 Modern Campus
Kristen Vanselow (Florida Gulf Coast University) on Cultivating Future Professionals through Microcredentials
Illumination by Modern Campus
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Illumination by Modern Campus
Kristen Vanselow (Florida Gulf Coast University) on Cultivating Future Professionals through Microcredentials
Jan 04, 2024
Modern Campus

On today’s episode of the Illumination by Modern Campus podcast, host Amrit Ahluwalia was joined by Kristen Vanselow to discuss the importance of employer involvement and partnerships, and how to expand your reach beyond your typical learner audience. 

Show Notes Transcript

On today’s episode of the Illumination by Modern Campus podcast, host Amrit Ahluwalia was joined by Kristen Vanselow to discuss the importance of employer involvement and partnerships, and how to expand your reach beyond your typical learner audience. 

Voiceover: Welcome to Illumination by Modern Campus, the leading podcast focused on transformation and change in the higher education space. On today’s episode, we speak with Kristin Vanselow, who is Assistant Vice President of Innovation Education and Partnerships at Florida Gulf Coast University. Kristin and podcast host Amrit Ahluwalia discuss the importance of employer involvement and partnerships, and how to expand your reach beyond your typical learner audience. 

Amrit Ahluwalia (00:48): Kristen, welcome to the Illumination podcast. So glad to be chatting with you.

Kristen Vanselow (00:55):Thank you. I am so pleased to be here.

Amrit Ahluwalia (00:57):Actually, I'm excited. We're talking about FG C'S Micro-credential portfolio because it's a bit of a follow-up for us. A few years ago we worked with a colleague of yours who is now in the presidency at the institution, and I think it really speaks to the broader strategy or the broader mindset institution wide around the importance of micro-credentialing the importance of workforce education, what sparked the university's interest in expanding its portfolio of micro-credentials.

Kristen Vanselow (01:26):Thank you so much for the question and absolutely for the recognition of our leader at Florida Gulf Coast University, Dr. Asher Gold Timur, when she joined our institution, she had this audacious goal of really looking at ways that we could prepare our students for the workforce and build that talent pipeline between our university and the regional employers. And so the initial successes that we experienced in some of our digital badges and micro-credential programs really has led to the expansion. One of our first examples was working with arthrex, a global leader in the medical device industry, and as we developed a solution to encourage and increase the awareness of our students about the opportunities right there in our backyard, other employers came forward to say, well, we want a badge. We want to do this too. So how can we work together in order to do that?

Amrit Ahluwalia (02:19):That's awesome. I love the concept of almost, I'm not going to say corporate first is not the term, but really almost a demand-based strategy for developing micro-credentials for developing programming. I do want to talk a little bit about the ins and outs of building those partnerships, but I'm curious about what goes into the decision framework around what you're going to work on, who you're going to work with and why Is it aligned with areas that the university already has expertise in or generally speaking, when an employer comes to you, is the strategy to then build expertise in that space and offer a program?

Kristen Vanselow (02:53):Great questions. We are really a regional comprehensive institution serving southwest Florida, so it's important to us that not only in our academic programs, but also in anything we do in this new space, including creating new micro-credential opportunities leading to the award of digital badges that it be of regional importance. So to that end, we offer programs in education, in health related areas, in engineering, in business, in all of the traditional arts and sciences areas. And we have a water school because we're focused on quality of water within southwest Florida. 

And throughout the state of Florida, we have a strong hospitality program because of where we're located within the country. So I say all that because everything we do should really be an area where we have faculty expertise at the institution. So when we've had these wonderful conversations with our employers, that's where the conversation starts. We want to know what skills gaps they're seeing not only in their workforce, but potentially in the graduates of FGCU, who we believe we're preparing very well for taking employment in a variety of different disciplines and areas within the region. But we are hearing that there are still skills gaps. And so it's so important that that conversation begin with the employer because this is all about student success. This is all about them getting to that goal that they have, whether that's going right into the workforce or continuing their education or going back to a family business or starting their own business. And so we're really, really intentional at working with the employers, but then we have the faculty expertise to match with that and to really look at how can we do something above and beyond what we're already doing to fill that need.

Amrit Ahluwalia (04:42):Well, that's awesome because it really starts to speak to how does the university extend its reach beyond the learners that we've always served as an industry. How do we take that expertise and start to apply it to new spaces? What did it take to really start to build those employer partnerships? Because obviously an employer will have very different expectations around maybe their level of service or level of responsiveness or the work of the institution than a traditional student might have. What did it take to build that muscle memory?

Kristen Vanselow (05:13):We really have been intentional as an institution, especially under the leadership of our president, to be present, to be involved in our chambers of commerce, to be involved on advisory committees, to represent our institution with the employers. We also have extremely robust advisory committees for all of our academic program areas. So we have employers at the table already. It's having those honest and open conversations about not only what are we doing from the academic side, but what can we do to be even stronger without the forceful perspective of changing curriculum or changing the way that we teach the research and what we need to have in that curriculum for a quality degree. This is how can we shift that thinking to say, what can we do that's a quicker response to those employers that is nimble, that is flexible, that doesn't have a two year curriculum process perhaps that will guide it so that we can really integrate what is critically needed now into our programming for our students. And they see the value of it. It's hard sometimes to get students to take that optional

(06:24):When you're talking about an undergrad student and even a graduate student who's really focused on what do I need to complete my program? It's hard to encourage them to do something extra, but it hasn't been hard in this area. Because of our model, we've found a way to really identify where do we have courses or series of courses that are giving many, many, many of these skills to the students and introducing them to the content and how can we add something above and beyond that where they can demonstrate that they have the competency, they have the skill. And then even further, how can we validate that that skill is closing the gap?

(07:01):We validate it by allowing the employers and inviting the employers into the assessment process. Not for the coursework, for what comes after.

Amrit Ahluwalia (07:10):That's really interesting. So the micro-credentials then built on a competency framework.

Kristen Vanselow (07:17):They sure are.

Amrit Ahluwalia (07:18):How did you guys build your competency framework? Were there models that you looked at elsewhere? Is it something you built internally?

Kristen Vanselow (07:25):It really was something that we built internally. Some of the key players out there that were doing work in micro-credential space really sparked the initiative. It really sparked the creativity of our president,

(07:39):And she really wanted us to focus on how can we make these intentional, but not in a way that it's going to create a lack of confidence or trust with our faculty and with our academic partners across the campus. How can we build that trust between the employer and the faculty? And so it was really about, we're not going to put this into our curriculum, but we're going to have it enhance our curriculum. We're going to have it be our, and it's something that's optional for students, but as time has gone by, more and more are taking advantage of that opportunity. And I can return to that medical device industry example for you. Back when we started these initiatives and these discussions and piloted some things in 2020, we had about 40 of our graduates employed by arthrex. They have 7,000 employees in southwest Florida. They really wanted to strengthen that pipeline because they don't just hire medical device technicians, they hire surgeons, they hire physicians, they hire communications experts, they hire instructional technologists. They want marketing professionals, HR professionals. They even have a boutique, boutique hotel and restaurant on their campus. So they want every graduate of FGCU. And so because of our building of awareness of those employment opportunities, that regional employer that has such an important global presence, we have increased with their partnership, our graduates to 500 or more that are now working for arthrex four years later.

Amrit Ahluwalia (09:06):Oh, wow.

Kristen Vanselow (09:07):Three years later. Really? We're not in 2024 yet.

Amrit Ahluwalia (09:09):Fair enough.

Kristen Vanselow (09:11):So we have more and more students that are opting to take a course to learn more about medical device industry that applies towards their degree programs. It's open to every student on our campus. And then once they go through the course, there are qualifiers. They have to earn a grade of B or better in order to even pursue the micro credential. So after they go through the course, which is assessed, the student learning outcomes are created, assessed by our faculty. Once the students have mastered those outcomes, they can opt in. So it's what comes after it's the plus. So then we have students go through a three part assessment. So the first is just recall of knowledge. Do they know enough about the industry that they should proceed? Then they complete a comprehensive research paper that they pick one of the products from this employer, and they do the research on why was it important for them to develop a new way of improving surgery on athletes who need a shoulder replacement.

(10:12):And the reason for that is that the employer wants to have folks on their team that have the ability to research and have the ability to write. So that is a mechanism for us to be able to provide confidence and that competence is met. And so that is still graded by faculty at FGCU. But then that third assessment is where they come in. There is an oral presentation that's provided to leaders at Arthrex along with employees that would be their colleagues and faculty and administration from our institution. It's a little bit grueling for the students. Not every student is going to earn that badge. There is a fall off in every one of those different assessments, but at the very end of the day, ARTHREX guarantees them an interview. So that is something that we've been able to continue to model as we've looked at professional sales as we've created a micro-credential in tourism, and I'm sorry, it's data analytics and revenue management in the tourism industry, the travel industry. Oh,

Amrit Ahluwalia (11:12):Fascinating.

Kristen Vanselow (11:13):Yep. They get guaranteed interviews with our partner Hertz. And then we also have some programs in emotional intelligence that NeoGenomics another global employer with a headquartered area right by us. They wanted to give a gift back to Southwest Florida to say, even though we may not employ all of these students, it is so important that they have empathy, that they act with kindness, that they have a higher level of emotional intelligence than we typically may see right out of the gate. And so they've sponsored a course in digital badge for students that would like to really be able to apply that learning to an employer.

Amrit Ahluwalia (11:51):That's really interesting. I think what strikes me the most is how there's very intentional assessments designed both around technical skills and durable skills. And I feel like we have a tendency to signal durable skills and assess technical skills.

It's kind of interesting that there's a very intentional approach to really assessing and understanding how well someone communicates, how well someone researches as a core component of the actual credential process.

Kristen Vanselow (12:20):Absolutely.

Amrit Ahluwalia (12:22):I'm curious about the learners that enroll in these programs. When you think about these credentials, are they largely seen as a mechanism to support ongoing corporate training? Are they seen as an approach? And we've already talked about this a little bit, to build employability for degree seeking students or as sort of an alternate pathway for non-traditional students who might not be able to enroll in a full degree program?

Kristen Vanselow (12:45):All of the above. And so we have three different types of micro-credentials that we have launched at FGCU. So the one I've been talking a little bit more about today with you is our industry specific model. And that's where we really do attach those micro-credential experiences to courses that we offer both at the undergraduate or graduate level. But so those are really designed more for a student, for a student to get a credential that might lead to employment before they ever graduate or upon graduation, depending on where they are in their academic program. But we also have a very intense transferable skills digital badge category, and we've aligned those digital badges for our undergraduate students, but we've aligned them with the NACE competencies, so the National Association of Colleges and Employers. And so we've looked at things like critical thinking,

(13:37):Oral communication, written communication, teamwork, leadership, technical literacy. Those are important skills that our employers are looking for. But what we notice is that students, while they've engaged in so many examples of applying those transferable skills of even mastering those transferable skills, they don't remember to talk about it and close that gap with the employers. And so what we've done is created two step portfolio building process where the student really collects artifacts of examples of where they've done these things in their classes outside of their classes, co-curricular activities, internships, externships service learning experiences, so that they can build a portfolio of maybe the five best artifacts that show their teamwork, their ability to be a contributing member of a team. And then we have them write a reflection and talk about it. And so they're talking about, okay, I did master this. Oh, when I was in this course, we did a group project and it was challenging, but our outcome was that we had this an amazing project that we were able to present to our community partner. And then what we have them do once we know that they've really created a great artifact based portfolio, we have them practice interviewing about it. So that's step two where they really participate in a mock interview. Sometimes we do that over Zoom or another platform so that we can get them used to that because that will likely be a way that they have their first interview.

(15:02):We have them over a phone. We bring employers to the institution to have those interviews. one-on-one with students. And the outcome, once they've successfully spoken about that transferable skill is that they get that badge. And what we love about that is that our employers are looking for those badges now. They're ready to see them on student profiles on LinkedIn and elsewhere so that they can see, okay, I want to see the students that actually did this and learn more about it.

Amrit Ahluwalia (15:28):So as you've educated employers in your region about the process of developing the micro-credential, the employers are now looking for micro-credentials as signals of employability. You've

Kristen Vanselow (15:39):Got it. And what's ironic is that we had an external marketing company come in and take a look at the brand awareness. Our students aware, our employers aware, our faculty and staff aware, how can they describe these initiatives? The employers were able to describe it more than any of our internal folks at the university. So we realized, okay, we need to do a better job of talking about this with our students, with our faculty and staff. But the employers are like, I know exactly what a digital badge from FGCU stands for.

Amrit Ahluwalia (16:06):So that's super interesting. Whenever we talk about micro-credentialing, we talk about the critique of micro-credentialing. So often what comes up is it's a great concept, but employers have no idea what these things are. So if the whole point is that we're trying to replace the degree is a signal of competency, then micro-credentials doing much more. But to your mind, as long as you're actually engaging employers in the development process right off the start, then their understanding of micro-credentials will expand beyond even what's internal.

Kristen Vanselow (16:37):I could not say it better.

Amrit Ahluwalia (16:38):That's really neat. Have you found that even employers, does that understanding of the value of micro-credentials for employers in your area expand beyond just the employers you've partnered with?

Kristen Vanselow (16:51):It does. Going back to one of my first comments, there are other employers coming to us and saying, well, how can we do this now. 

(16:58):How can we be involved in even mock interviews with our students? So we've really expanded that network for internships for our students, for the mock interview process that we have on campus, getting them involved in more professional development activities before they ever graduate. But you did ask the question about how we're serving learners in our community because when we said something about corporate education, it does kind of follow that model in terms of how can we provide continuing education opportunities for upskilling, reskilling development of employees where they don't have an internal department already doing those things. So that is a huge commitment. That's the third type of digital badge that we have, and it's really extremely intentional. I'd love to share that We don't develop programs because we think they are going to accomplish the workforce development. We listen to the employer and we create it around their needs.

(17:54):And so that concept of we build it, they will come, we flip that model, it's You tell us what you need, and then we know that they will endorse that for their own employees. But also what's become magical is that we might develop something along with an employer, and I'll use a health example. One of our largest employers in the region, Lee Health has 14,000 employees. They have issues sometimes with retention, especially at that entry level. And so they wanted to create this readiness, this workforce readiness opportunity for their employees. So they understand the culture, they understand the values of the leadership, they understand that they believe in their employees, invest in their development, and that there will be opportunities for growth regardless of where they are in the organization. So long story short, we created this credential around their needs involved the leaders in developing that content and delivering that content. And now they've had groups of employees go through that and they're really getting opportunities for mobility right there in their organization. But flipping that, flipping that aside, we never intended for that to become something they wanted our students to also participate in. So they said, please make this available to your students. If the students want to graduate and work for Lee Health. It's not just those clinical health

(19:15):Positions that we are in dire need of filling. It's someone to work with the patients on the front end. It's someone who can help us in terms of helping them understand the processes, the procedures always improving what we do. They again, are places that look at hospitality, look at their food service needs, other jobs. And so they would love for our students to also pursue this credential, even though it's not one aligned with curriculum. It's completely voluntary, but they will guarantee an interview to any student who does that proactively upon graduation who applies for a job. We're also taking it out into the community because they said, why stop there? We have members of this community that we would love to employ, but we want them to know more about our organization, about our expectations, about our culture so that it's not a surprise. And when they go through that and then they apply for a job, we will interview them.

Amrit Ahluwalia (20:07):That's really interesting. So are you finding to an extent then that this work is helping to reposition or at least more firmly position the university as almost a service provider to the community?

Kristen Vanselow (20:18):Absolutely. We want to be known as that regional solution for educational needs at all levels. One partnership that I must mention is that of Future Makers Coalition. We are future makers and Future makers Coalition is a collective impact aligned with a nonprofit in our region where more than 250 employers, community partners, school districts, universities and colleges are coming together to talk about the real need of focusing on cradle to career in our region. And how can we align not only those workforce needs along the way, but the educational opportunities that support them and will allow us to grow what we need in order to focus on cradle to career. So as a future maker, we've really been able to build very trusting relationships with those 250 organizations, community partners. We're part of this together. We're not in this just for our institution, we're in this for the region. And that's been a wonderful way for us to engage with those partners in our community.

Amrit Ahluwalia (21:23):One thing I'm always curious about with innovations like this is whether there is a distinct role in how the university approaches it and how the local college approaches it. How are you balancing initiatives around workforce development that are unique to what the university can provide and where's the intersection between the university and the college?

Kristen Vanselow (21:50):We have a great relationship with our closest state college, and many of our initiatives are aligned so that we can open it up to their student population F as well.

(22:01):And so even the course embedded model that we have for those industry specific, we really encourage and promote those enrollment opportunities to their students, whether they're on a degree pathway for an associate level degree or a baccalaureate level degree, so that they can get that same opportunity with that employer partner. Because if they don't have their own solutions or networks, we want to expand that within the region. But we compliment one another's programs. What they're doing in the workforce space is very different than our approach to working with our employers and preparing our students through that pipeline. But we work collaboratively. We work together.

Amrit Ahluwalia (22:39):Absolutely. Well, I'm curious, anytime we talk about micro-credentialing, and certainly we collaborate with SIO and research a few years ago around the strategy of micro-credentialing and the benefit of micro-credentialing, and we found the majority of respondents spoke to the alignment of micro-credentialing offerings with enrollment increases, with revenue increases. Are you seeing that at FGCU?

Kristen Vanselow (23:02):It's a great question because what we've been very proud of is that we have not had any cost to our students in order to participate in these programs. We have honestly had faculty that have expressed an interest in doing this work and doing it without even additional compensation in some cases, which it's a testament to their level of support. And they really want to engage with these employers as well. They'd love for all of their students to be hired by our regional employers that this is where they want to live and work. 

(23:34):Yes. And so we haven't focused so much on revenue when it comes to the transferable skills, for example, and the industry specific digital badges. The revenue side for us is in the continuing education space. But right now, we happen to be one of the good jobs challenge grant recipients here in the United States, and we have received grant funding to offset the cost of developing these initiatives. And so I firmly believe that we need those employers to trust that what we're building is going to meet their needs before they should be investing their own resources in it. And so the sustainability conversations are underway, and they're committed because they know that whatever the cost is for us to deliver these programs into perpetuity.

(24:20): They really are standing behind because we're involving them in the development and delivery. So in terms of enrollment growth, we're sharing these wonderful opportunities with parents in any of our recruitment events. And the way that we talk with them about if the end goal for the student or the parent is we want them to get a good job, we know that the college education is not supposed to just prepare them for work, but it should be helping prepare them for those opportunities. And so we really are committed to doing that and making that our revenue, the revenue that we receive, is honestly enough just to offset the cost of delivering the programs. It's a commitment that we've made.

Amrit Ahluwalia (25:00):Absolutely. Well, Kristen, I mean that's pretty much everything I had and more, now I forgot to mention this off the top, we're in Washington DC together at the Ssea Acro Convergence Conference, but this is the stage of the podcast where we kind of flip over and we stop being a higher ed podcast and we start being a food podcast. Oh, great. So I'm curious if someone's in Fort Myers, where do they need to go for dinner?

Kristen Vanselow (25:23):Well, I'll tell you, we've got a lot of hidden gems, and I'd like to mention two, if that's okay.

Amrit Ahluwalia (25:28):Please.

Kristen Vanselow (25:29):Okay. I can't choose just one. But the first that I'd love to mention, it's Nino's thick and thin pizzeria. It is the best homemade Italian food that you could ever have, and it is nestled right in Fort Myers. And so I absolutely highly recommend it. And if you come to visit, I'll take you there for a meal. But I also would be remiss if I did not mention our hometown of Fort Myers Beach. It is an area that unfortunately was impacted quite just catastrophically by Hurricane Ian just over a year ago. And so there are so many independently owned restaurants there that have had to rebuild. And so I have to give a shout out to moms. Moms is the best to go for any breakfast or lunch, homemade everything. And they're operating from a food truck once again. Oh, awesome. So you can still get it if you come to Fort Myers Beach.

Amrit Ahluwalia (26:22):Kristen, thank you so much. It's been a pleasure.

Kristen Vanselow (26:24):Thank you so much.