The RITA Consortium encourages collaboration in many ways – among faculty and staff in the four community colleges, for one. For another, the consortium and its colleges are engaging local industry in helping shape the new degree offerings. In addition, each college in the consortium will work closely with workforce centers in each region to help candidates who can benefit from the new degree offerings and to collect data that helps evaluate student success in job placement.
“Our approach to outreach is diverse and multi-faceted,” says Olesen. “We look forward to working with community businesses, workforce centers, and employment coaches on opportunities that meet industry needs and help students launch careers in high-demand areas.”
Thanks to the RITA Consortium, faculty from four colleges benefit from the experiences of working with faculty from other colleges, and by sharing their ideas and expertise with each other, they are supporting the development of sustainable, high-quality degree offerings.
“We are talking together, which helps generate new thoughts and promotes consistency in what we do among all colleges,” says Jones. “We communicate, share ideas, and pool our knowledge and experience for new curriculum.”
Each college comes into the consortium with its own unique set of strengths, and the consortium makes it easy to leverage those strengths.
“Different colleges in the consortium are focusing on specialties,” says Mueller. “Ridgewater College is focusing on mobile app development for Apple, while here at Pine Technical and Community College we will concentrate on Android development.”
In addition, the RITA Consortium increases the resources that are available to faculty as they develop new offerings.
“The expenses of setting up special labs for different platforms is distributed between the colleges, while we are working to share courses, such as user interface design, that are common for all platforms,” he says. “Faculty members also are publishing and sharing ideas and courses, and RITA allows us to see and use the best practices of each institution in the consortium.”
Local industry partnerships
Industry partnerships form an important cornerstone for the colleges and consortium, says Olesen.
“Industry benefits from the end result of a source of well-prepared potential hires in areas where there are already talent shortages,” he says. “Industry representatives are helping us by sharing their opinions and expertise, by exploring internship possibilities, by contributing to the classroom, and by advertising job openings.”
At PTCC, faculty members talked with industry to learn more about their interests in the development of new information technology options. The results of those talks and others at different colleges showed the value of pursuing the grant to establish RITA for the communities.
“We’ve met with companies that provided the incentive to pursue the RITA grant, because they are finding it difficult to hire skilled workers in Minnesota,” says Mueller. “The programs and courses being offered are the direct results of those conversations.”
The outreach to industry will continue in both formal and informal ways. Many faculty members maintain connections with industry representatives as they help students find career opportunities. The RITA Consortium, though, is building on the foundation of existing advisory boards that involve industry.
“Each of the colleges has some form of advisory board,” says Olesen. “We’re looking to make greater use of advisory boards as a model to enhance industry interaction.”
In addition, there are plans to form a RITA Consortium advisory committee with industry representatives from each of the community college regions.
“The communities are invested in the success of the community colleges,” says Olesen. “They want to see students do well. These efforts will only serve to enhance the already strong relationships the faculty have with the local industry.”
The grant that funds the RITA Consortium makes possible the expansion of a number of information technology-related efforts. New equipment and resources will help students gain cutting-edge experience and knowledge in some key information technology fundamentals. In addition, resources at colleges will help faculty in developing innovative instruction techniques and tools.
At CLC, faculty member Chuck Lund understands the value of Cisco training and certification.
“It’s going to open more doors for students,” says Lund. “Cisco is one of the hot fields in information technology.”
Certification gives an edge to students in the marketplace, he says. “Experience is often tough to get, and while a two-year degree is helpful, students who have certification have a way to show employers that they know their stuff.”
As part of the RITA Consortium, students can attend Cisco Academies at each community college campus. The academies offer certified training in a number of Cisco specialty areas that complement degree work in Cisco administration and network administration.
Students who pursue Cisco certifications at the Cisco Academies will benefit from hands-on work with the latest equipment. They also can take a number of Cisco certifications (see list) from Cisco-certified instructors. Students must pass a final test to receive certification, with testing centers onsite at each college.
“If you look at job requirements, you can see the importance of Cisco training,” says Lund. “Students can choose to get certification – it’s not mandatory, but it makes a lot of sense from a career perspective.”