Photo credit: Patrick McArdle/UANews
Photo credit: Patrick McArdle/UANews

UA Class of 2014: Workforce-Ready

Increasingly, UA students are engaging in out-of-classroom experiences that build the skills they'll need when they graduate and enter the workforce.
May 19, 2014

At the University of Arizona, students aren't simply learning the skills they need to head into the working world. They're also getting the opportunity to put those lessons to work through hands-on experiences that build a foundation for the day they leave the UA and begin their careers.

Thousands of new graduates, the members of the Class of 2014, moved their tassels on Saturday. Some will enter the workforce while other will continue on to pursue advanced degrees. Whatever their next step, numerous UA programs have helped prepare them for whatever happens next.

Readying students to meet statewide and national demands for a highly skilled workforce is one of the goals of Never Settle, the UA's strategic plan.

Under an effort called 100% Engagement, the UA aims to ensure that future graduates of all disciplines get the experiences they need – through internships, research, community service and on-campus jobs – so they can hit the ground running in their first jobs.

"We are in the process of building out the 100% Engagement initiative over several years. We are capitalizing on the fact that many of our majors, and many of our students, already participate in these activities," said UA Provost Andrew Comrie.

One of those students is undergraduate researcher Casey Mackin, electrical and computer engineering senior and an Honors College student. He worked with Roman Lysecky, an associate professor, and Jonathan Sprinkle, an assistant professor, both in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering.

"Their guidance and support was a major part of my success as a student and researcher," Mackin said. On track to become a professor, he will spent the summer interning at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Lincoln Laboratory. Then he's enter a doctoral degree program in electrical engineering and computer science at the University of California, Berkeley.

Mackin was first introduced to research through the UA Summer Research Institute. Later, he earned a $10,000 scholarship from the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation, a national nonprofit organization that promotes the retention of college students in science and technology fields.

"The combination of outstanding faculty and recruitment programs at the University of Arizona largely prepared me to be successful as a graduate student and academic researcher," Mackin said.

Another graduating student, Bryanda Acuna, said Arizona Assurance, the UA's institutional financial aid and student retention program open to qualifying Arizona residents, was an important conduit for her personal and professional development.

During her four years at the UA, Acuna has held internships, worked as a respite provider and helped support children with autism and their families. She also helped to establish Cubs to Wildcats, a student organization that teaches K-12 students about college.

"When I first applied, I didn't understand what a major was," said Acuna, a Nogales, Arizona, native who is graduating with a bachelor's degree in family studies and human development.

Today, she is working with Child & Family Resources, a nonprofit organization, and plans to begin seeking graduate admissions next year. Ultimately, she would like to serve as an occupational therapist, using therapy animals to help autistic children.

She already has a position lined up: conducting home visits with families who have newborns so they can be better equipped to aid in their children's development.

"I'm so excited," she said. "I was able to get a job with my degree before I actually graduated."

Erik Andersen, whose research interest is in synthetic biology research, begins a doctoral program in molecular and cellular biology at the University of Illinois this fall.

An Arizona Assurance scholar, Andersen was involved in the Undergraduate Biology Research Program, which has supported undergraduate researchers for decades and now has alumni who are now scientists, physicians, health professionals, teachers, science writers, entrepreneurs, attorneys and policymakers.

Over the course of his studies, Andersen earned two National Institutes of Health grants, one that funded a research trip to Japan, and another that enabled him to expand his undergraduate research at the UA. He also was heavily involved with the BIO5 Ambassadors, which is part of the BIO5 Institute, the University's interdisciplinary collaboration established to address biology-based research and challenges, and has presented his research locally and nationally.

Other students are getting hands-on skills through programs including:

  • The Eller College of Management's McGuire Entrepreneurship Program, which is highly regarded for marrying academic and business training. It often supports students in moving ideas through to launch. 
  • Career Services, which connects students with job opportunities.
  • Teachers in Industry, which places students in paid summer positions with local businesses in the Southwest as they work on their master's degrees in teaching and teacher education.
  • The National Science Foundation-funded Undergraduate Research Opportunities Consortium, allows offers an intensive 10-week research experience under the guidance of faculty members.
  • The new Workforce-Ready Master's Fellowship, which provides financial support for students pursuing master's degrees in areas that are especially significant to Arizona's economic prosperity, such as aerospace engineering, mining, water, society and policy, and public health.

Actively involving students in knowledge creation and allowing them to develop work-related skills well in advance of earning a degree is important for several reasons, Comrie said.

"Students learn more when they integrate their classroom learning with real-world experience. They discover their own interests and talents while developing important subject skills parallel to professional skills and they are better prepared for the working world after college," he said. "And employees favor students who can demonstrate all of these things."