Emerging energy technologies. 3-D printing. The Internet of Things. It's clear that the demand for jobs in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) sector are going to skyrocket. STEM-related jobs are expected to grow 18 percent in 2017, a faster rate than all other occupations during the same period, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. To support this rapidly growing industry, Northeastern University has launched the ALIGN program to carry students from all walks of life into new careers that will be in high demand.
Piloted three years ago in Seattle, the program was initially designed to bring more women into the computer science industry. Today, the graduate program is geared to attract students from all backgrounds — even those with no science experience — who fall into underrepresented demographics in the STEM industry. The three-year “reskilling” program aims to bridge that gap for students holding a bachelor’s degree in any field and supports skill development in STEM graduate degrees, including bioinformatics, computer science, energy systems, health informatics, and information assurance (cybersecurity).
Through a combination of online courses, face-to-face classroom lectures and immersive team projects, students gain skills in diverse ways that go beyond traditional postgraduate training. As P.K. Agarwal, regional dean and CEO of Northeastern University-Silicon Valley notes, this is a more effective learning model, especially for professionals with busy lives who may be switching careers.
“Northeastern is an innovator and disruptor — they’ve pretty much upped the ante by saying, ‘We’re going to be the leaders in the 21st century,’ he said. “As people are doing things online, there are those who would like to have some contact with peer groups and professors, so we are switching to hybrid formats, where maybe you meet once a week. It’s the 2-1 split in students in professional studies who have busy lives; we are seeing that about two students are in favor of hybrid, versus one whose life is so busy and they prefer online only.”
Besides classroom and project learning, students also have the option to engage in work experience with Northeastern’s 3,000-plus corporate partners. Students are required to complete a course on “how to be a professional” to prepare them for real-world employment. The network connections and preparations appear to pay off: 60 percent of Northeastern graduates are hired by an employer in their industry and 90 percent are working in their specific major within six months.
While the ALIGN program is planned to officially launch this fall in Boston, Silicon Valley and Seattle, the pilot program has already shown signs of success. Since graduating, the pilot cohort of students have been placed in jobs at Amazon, Staples, Facebook, Zillow and Google. Applications for the official program are still rolling in. However, Agarwal expects those numbers to exceed 200.
The ALIGN program may sound cutting-edge, but STEM training should be a top priority for higher education organizations everywhere, according to Agarwal. “That’s the future of the United States, that’s the next generation,” he said. “It became clear from the recent Future of Jobs Report by the World Economic Forum that all high-paying jobs in the future all have some element of technology in them.”