Since its start in 2016, UNC Charlotte's School of Professional Studies has offered digital skills and technology boot camps to upskill and reskill adult learners. The newest program to be added in 2020 was the Financial Technology Certificate program.
In 2016, UNC Charlotte's School of Professional Studies began offering digital skills and technology boot camps that last between 12 and 24 weeks to upskill and reskill adult learners to help pivot careers. Four programs have been developed and hosted through the School of Professional Studies. The programs include Coding: Full Stack Web Development Certificate, Cybersecurity Certificate, Data Analytics and Visualization Certificate, and Financial Technology Certificate. Since 2016, these four programs have produced 1500 graduates.
"As UNC Charlotte is the educational powerhouse for the region, we also want to be sure we are serving the community in means regarding career development, upskilling, and reskilling," said Asher Haines, the associate provost of the school of professional studies.
The mission statement for the School of Professional Studies states, "The UNC Charlotte School of Professional Studies ensures that all learners regardless of age, level of experience, or previous education, have opportunities to learn, grow, and achieve their personal and professional goals with a UNC Charlotte education."
These programs and the majority of the programs in the School of Professional Studies are typically utilized by adult students who already have a four-year degree that are looking to upskill and reskill. Upskilling and reskilling refer to adding new skills to a resume in addition to other previous skills or adding a set of skills in another field.
The School of Professional Studies is marketed to non-traditional learners as defined in their vision statement.
30% of the students enrolled in these programs do not have a bachelor’s degree; however, a bachelor’s degree is not required, nor is a background in computer science or analytics.
“The world is finding that people change jobs every four and a half to five years, so it is good to have a resource back at the University for people to say ‘alright let me do some upskilling and reskilling and see if I can pivot my career,” said Haines.
According to Haines, most of the participants are not coming from a computer science background.
“Maybe they have been working in the finance industry, and they need to learn some coding skills or some technology application skills to help them in their current work or pivot into a more IT-focused role,” added Haines.
The first program to be developed was the Coding: Full Stack Web Development Certificate program in 2016. This program teaches students how to build dynamic web applications and how to be a web developer through learning the basics of coding and algorithms.
In 2019, the Cybersecurity Certificate program began, where students learned IT skills, networking and information security. Tools such as Wireshark, Kali Linux, Metasploit, and Nessus will be taught with the ability to earn certifications in CompTIA Security+, CompTIA Network+ and ISC CISSP.
The newest program, the Financial Technology Certificate program, teaches students financial professional skills such as programming, data analysis and even cryptocurrency and the blockchain.
The programs are also heavily connected to employers. For example, students will participate in “demo days” where students can showcase their portfolios to employers who provide feedback and hiring opportunities.
Students who complete the courses receive certificates and can attend several job fairs offered by the School of Professional Studies.
“We hear great feedback from students and employers,” said Haines.
On the School of Professional Studies website, there are several testimonials from graduates, including 2019 graduate Kari Gehrke.
Gehrke was enrolled part-time in the Full Stack Flex course, where they found that “this course has allowed me to have opportunity and potential in my career again along with a higher salary.”
These programs are a part of the larger “portfolio” of other non-academic or professional development programs offered by the School of Professional Studies to serve various types of students and learners.
The School of Professional Studies offers professional development courses, career advancement certificates, graduate degree & certificate programs, and corporate/custom training and executive education programs in addition to the boot camps.
“We are always looking where we need to expand our portfolio,” said Haines in regards to future program additions.
These programs are available to students currently enrolled in undergraduate and graduate programs at the university, and there is an alumni scholarship available.
“It is central and core to our mission to be able to respond to the Charlotte region. That includes the economic need and the economic drivers of the region,” added Haines.
Classes are currently virtual, but they were mostly in-person before the pandemic.
UNC Chapel Hill, Columbia Engineering, Rice University and Vanderbilt University have also utilized similar programs in partnership with Trilogy, the same partner company used by UNC Charlotte.
Trilogy is an Austin, TX-based software company that helped launch boot camps such as the FinTech boot camp in 2019.