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New ASU program helps professionals polish their skill set to boost career

Self-paced Continuing and Professional Education courses provide the expertise that are most in demand by employers today

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November 17, 2017

Professionals whose college days are behind them still need to learn new skills to stay at the top of their game, and Arizona State University has launched a new way to do that.

ASU’s new Continuing and Professional Education courses are mostly online, self-paced and developed to create the expertise that employers demand most.

“If you look at an individual’s career path once they leave with an undergraduate degree, they’re going to continue to need to learn new skills and refresh skills throughout their professional career,” said Darcy Richardson, director of continuing education for EdPlus, the unit at ASU that creates technology and forges partnerships to develop new ways of teaching and learning. “They need to learn to stand out from competition to progress their careers.”

Richardson said that employers want T-shaped employees, with a depth of knowledge in one area but also skills that translate to many different jobs, such as critical thinking and writing clearly.

ASU is now offering nearly 50 non-credit courses ranging from free to $399, for businesspeople, teachers and other professionals, based on what employers are seeking. New classes in “soft skills” include “Understanding Office Politics” and “Improving Informal Communication.”

Richardson said that project management is a highly prized skill in hiring, but only 15 percent of job postings require the official industry certification. So ASU created a set of classes on the different aspects of project management, such as choosing a project, developing a schedule and closing the project.

“We took the body of knowledge for project management and we identified 12 primary skill attributes that go in this body of knowledge,” she said. “Instead of one big program of all 12 categories, we developed 12 separate, three-hour micro-courses. Each one addresses a core skill.”

Users can take one or two courses to develop a skill or, by taking all 12, would be eligible to sit for the exam that leads to industry certification, she said.

Each course will generate a digital badge that can be used on a LinkedIn profile or a resume — another request from employers who are increasingly relying on electronic resume vetting.

Richardson said the program will eventually offer discounts to ASU alumni, who also will be surveyed on the type of professional development classes they’re interested in.

The project management content was created by ASU faculty in the College of Integrative Sciences and Arts, and future courses — which Richardson predicts will be added at the rate of about 100 per year — also will be faculty-driven. For example, two daylong, in-person courses on beekeeping are being taught in the spring semester by Osman Kaftanoglu, the project manager of the ASU Honey Bee Research Lab at the Polytechnic campus in Mesa.

Another ASU staff member who created a course is Cammy Bellis, program manager for Project Connect, part of the T. Sanford Denny School of Social and Family Dynamics at ASU. She developed content for the online class called “Creating Affirming Schools for Transgender Students.” The self-paced course, for teachers, principals and other K-12 educators, covers issues such as using the pronoun requested by transgender students, the increased risk of depression and anxiety they face and how to respect their confidentiality. 

“We tell teachers that by using their asserted names, it shows them, ‘I see you, I affirm who you are and your identity,’ ” said Bellis, who has worked with transgenderTransgender people have a gender identity or gender expression that differs from their assigned sex. youth and their families for several years. She also offers face-to-face workshops for educators.

“We always wanted this information to be more accessible to more people. We didn’t want to just see a change in Arizona; we’d like to see a change globally,” said Bellis.

Teachers in the one- or two-hour seminars frequently tell Bellis that they want more time, and at six hours, the online module — which includes videos, interactive case studies and animation — can provide that deeper level of material. The module was piloted with teachers, who said they especially liked the videos of transgender youths describing their experiences.

“We know when you put transgender people in front of cisgenderCisgender is a term for people whose gender identity matches the sex that they were assigned at birth. people, it’s more likely to break down stereotypes they have of that group. They can see a face with an issue. They can personalize it,” Bellis said. 

“The hope is to build empathy for this group because school is hard for them.”

Richardson said that the Continuing and Professional Education initiative will be focused on professional skills, not enrichment classes, which are provided by the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at ASU, or executive education, which is offered by the Thunderbird School of Global Management.

“We’re staying with this niche of individuals who are working on their career trajectory,” she said. Upcoming course additions will likely include digital marketing and customer service.

“Employers tell me, ‘If I’m looking at an individual who has taken the time to further their education, even informally, that tells me they’re committed to learning and development, which makes them a better candidate,’ ” she said.

For details on Continuing and Professional Education courses, visit

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