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ODU Awarded Grant Aimed at Strengthening the Role of Master’s Education in Developing the STEM Workforce

By Joe Garvey

Old Dominion University's Graduate School has been chosen by the Council of Graduate Schools (CGS) to participate in a Master's Career Pathways Exit Survey project, which is designed to better understand and strengthen the role of master's education in STEM workforce development.

The project is funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF). ODU, which achieved Research 1 Carnegie status in December, is one of 10 universities that received $25,000 for the project that will run from April 1, 2022, through May 31, 2024. This program is an outgrowth of the Ph.D. Career Pathways project initiated by the CGS in 2014.

"At ODU, even as we celebrate the success of our doctoral programs and our newly won R1 status, our master's programs remain an important focus, particularly insofar as they prepare students for rewarding careers in education, industry, health care and the nonprofit sector," said Robert Wojtowicz, vice provost and dean of the Graduate School. "We are delighted to partner with CGS and NSF on this important survey."

Data for the master's project will be collected in three "waves:" April 1-Aug. 31, 2022; Sept. 1-Dec. 31, 2022; and Jan. 1-Dec. 31, 2023. Each semester, the Graduate School, working with the University's Office of Institutional Effectiveness and Assessment, will email master's students invitations to participate in the survey. Information gathered will help identify career outcome expectations and will be used to adjust curricula to meet competencies identified in the survey.

Based on past surveys conducted by the Graduate School, approximately 1,500 students are expected to participate.

The Graduate School will also host two outreach events that will bring regional employers to campus to discuss training needs and work competencies best suited for master's degrees that already exist - and for those that could be developed.

This will tap into the expertise and needs of the many STEM stakeholders in Hampton Roads, which is home to the world's largest naval base, numerous military installations, and local, state and federal educational, health care, engineering and aerospace organizations, including NASA Langley and Sentara Healthcare.

The focus of the project will be on ODU's 13 STEM master's degree programs, including several that are related to "Industries of the Future (IoF)" - data science with a concentration in artificial intelligence and machine learning; engineering with a concentration in biomedical; and computer science with a concentration in information and communications technology. Other related master's degrees supportive of IoFs are cybersecurity and computational and applied mathematics with a concentration in biostatistics.

The study will also look at non-STEM master's degrees that support STEM workforce needs, such as maritime trade and supply chain management, English with a concentration in technical writing, library and information studies, and lifespan and digital communication.

The Graduate School will identify two graduate program directors from STEM and two from non-STEM programs to lead the effort to adapt the data. They will be selected based upon the first wave of results, which will likely indicate areas of emphasis. The second and third data waves will be used to confirm and modify the analysis, with curricula changes to be implemented as early as the final semester of the grant.

The findings of the study will also be used to inform recruitment of students, particularly when it comes to diversity. A Pew Research Center study in 2021 showed that Blacks and Hispanics were underrepresented nationwide among degree recipients in STEM fields and in the STEM workforce. Women were underrepresented in engineering, computer and physical science occupations.

"This project will provide important insights that will help our graduate programs adapt to the needs of the growing STEM job market and better prepare our master's students to enter the workforce," said Austin Agho, provost and vice president for academic affairs. "It will also guide our continuing efforts to encourage and support underrepresented and minority students as they pursue advanced degrees in STEM disciplines."

The other institutions that received funding for the study are California State University at Bakersfield, Georgia State University, Hood College, Jackson State University, Oakland University, Texas State University, the University of Minnesota, the University of North Dakota, and the University of North Texas. The University of California, Berkeley, and the University of Central Florida agreed to participate in the project without receiving funding.

ODU's Graduate School offers 42 master's degree programs in both traditional and/or online modalities within a larger portfolio that includes educational specialist degrees, 22 doctoral degrees and more than 50 graduate certificates. More than 4,800 of the University's student body of approximately 23,500 are graduate students. To learn more about the Graduate School, go to this link.

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