Why today’s students must go beyond rocket science; and how it’s a university’s obligation.

engineering-social-fairfieldWhat is the first thing you think of when you think ‘engineering major’? Do you think collaborative; conversational; social media-savvy with a history of experience explaining technical situations in layman’s terms?

It’s ‘the new normal’: Today’s workplace is telling graduates and institutions that simply having a degree oftentimes doesn’t cut it. Non-technical positions are requiring a comfort-level with technology skills. Technical positions are requiring a comfort-level with non-technical skills. This isn’t rocket science. Well, except when it is.

Concurrently, colleges are expected to provide more, for less, to a new-to-us student demographic.

That’s why at Fairfield University’s School of Engineering, a main goal has become infusing students with more than just the school’s traditional social embrace by way of the core.

(Next page: How one university creates “social” scientists)

Dr. Shanon Reckinger, Assistant Professor at Fairfield, is actively creating well-rounded students within the most technical classrooms by infusing curriculum with high-demand workplace skills like communication and hands-on experience across multiple platforms.

Reckinger assigns video projects requiring students to speak to complex concepts in layman’s terms, showcased by student Andalib Ali’s Matlab tutorial:


In addition, Dr. Reckinger’s Fluid Dynamics class pushes student comfort zones by expanding their experience in an artistic way. One such project, inspired by Dr. Jean Hertzberg from the University of Colorado, asked students to capture a fluid dynamics concept in action.

This is happening within a School of Engineering: marrying highly technical with communication and art. Why is this not par for the course in all universities and colleges, across all areas of study?

At a time, which I like to semi-sarcastically refer to as ‘the war on higher education,’ when focus should be shifting (at minimally) to the speed of the environment, many appear to be handing over the proverbial keys to companies replicating exactly what higher education is supposed to already be doing: Preparing students for their next step in life. Barring grad school plans or similar, at a minimum, institutions of higher learning should be releasing their graduates into the world ‘career-ready’.

Though not all institutions of higher education are equipped to provide the high-touch learning environment, basic skills should not be taught without a thoughtful side dish delivered as well–that side dish including usability in the workforce.

Institutions oftentimes paint themselves into a corner of complacency with red tape and inability to process any degree of change in a responsive way. However, please notice with alarm the pop-up companies that are increasingly dotting our landscape and encroaching on what has traditionally been a higher-ed offering.

Does the workforce of today need this ‘5th year’ experience/bridge or can we in higher-ed do better to provide tangible, hands-on experience prior to degree completion? If we opt for this 5th year and for not addressing this workforce gap of today, what does that tell us about the future of higher education? If we are not bridging these gaps, we are opening the doors for others to do our job for us. And at a period of decreasing demand, we are surely in no position to allow our core responsibilities to be consumed by other industries.

Paige Francis is CIO at Fairfield University.

About the Author:

Paige Francis

Paige Francis is the CIO for Information Technology Services at Fairfield University in Fairfield, Conn. Northwest Arkansan turned New Englander, Paige Francis is a successful executive IT leader, energized by education, recently named to the Top 50 Most