As a graduate and long-time employee of CCAPS, Tony Scott brings a bird’s eye perspective to his new job as director of Undergraduate Applied and Professional Study degree programs.
Tony Scott is what some would call a “lifer” in the College of Continuing and Professional Studies (CCAPS). After graduating in the late nineteen-nineties from CCAPS’s Inter-College Program in advising, he was hired in the College’s Information Center as a learner representative, fielding questions from students about a host of credit and certificate programs offered by the College.
“I really enjoyed that job,” says Scott, “because it exposed me to a lot of the University. We were getting calls not only for CCAPS programs but often would need to direct people to other programs outside of CCAPS. I also had a wonderful supervisor who was big on training and encouraged me to complete my MBA during that time.”
After a few years as a learner rep, Scott was drafted into academic advising for applied degree programs on the strength of his vast program knowledge and advising degree. From 2009 through 2020, he helped students navigate programs such as Health Services Management (HSM), Construction Management (CM), and Information Technology Infrastructure (ITI). In January 2021, Scott took over as director of the program.
In your years as an advisor, how did you help students find their best path forward?
First, I wanted to learn what their objectives were with their education. So, for example, if they were looking at the ITI program, I’d ask, “OK, what do you want to do?” If I hear they're not as interested in programming and software development, but they like working with some of the physical hardware like computers, networks, and systems because they are the go-to person with family and friends, I know that the ITI program might be right for them.
My goal was to not only help them navigate the University of Minnesota and get through their program, but also have a meaningful experience while doing so. It was also my job to help them go from point A to point B without wasting time and money. That involved evaluating their transcript from the U or from another college to see what could be counted as transferable credits in that program. I don’t like seeing students spinning their wheels or spending their money on credits they may already have satisfied in some other way. So, I looked for opportunities to apply their previous learning toward that program.
In your new role as director, how do you work to ensure that what students learn can be applied to their jobs?
I work with our faculty directors, our content experts, to make sure that the programs we’re offering are meeting the learning objectives, which are basically that students are entering the workforce with the knowledge and capabilities to be successful in their field.
We have an advisory board that we consult to stay current on what is actually happening in the industry and identify potential gaps in our curriculum. We want to make sure that each particular industry values those learning outcomes. So we look to them to make sure a new course satisfies a skills gap, for example. And if we add a new course to a program, we also may have to make adjustments or remove a course so that we’re not adding additional credits that will prolong the time it takes for students to graduate.
With these programs, the “applied” piece is really important. We want students to be able to directly apply what they’ve learned in class to their work, whether it's the next day or the next month or whenever they enter the workforce.
What are you learning in your new role as director of CCAPS’s applied programs?
Right now, I am completing a leadership certificate through UPCEA (University Professional and Continuing Education Association). My previous positions could be classified as leadership, but as director I’m seeing things from a whole new vantage point. How do you manage people? How do you motivate them? How do you train? How do you supervise staff when that hasn’t been my role? These are some questions I’m answering.
What trends are you seeing in how education is delivered?
A few years back, the trend was massive open online courses, called MOOCs. Many colleges and universities began experimenting with online course offerings to attract large numbers of students; the University of Minnesota was no different. However, I began hearing from some of my students who were taking lots of online courses that they also wanted the on-campus experience. CCAPS is unique in that we already had a structure in place that allows us to offer hybrid courses that many other colleges and units didn’t have.
And it doesn’t always have to be synchronous learning (interactive between instructor and student); it could be asynchronous (virtual but without an instructor present) as well. So that seems to be the direction we’re going in now, especially with the pandemic. Everyone has learned to be on Zoom calls or Google Meet and people like that now.
Another trend is that we’re breaking bachelor’s programs down into tracks or sub-plans. All students take foundational courses to learn the fundamentals of their discipline while they home in on an area of interest. So, for ITI, a student can focus on cybersecurity or big data, for example. Some focus area options within the HSM program are emergency management and long-term care. And for Construction Management there’s commercial construction, residential construction, and facility management, to name a few.
Is there room for growth and collaboration across the University system?
Yes, there is lots of room to grow and collaborate with other colleges and units on campus. We have a number of strategic partners on campus that we work with and have great relationships with. For example, we have faculty from other departments, such as the College of Science and Engineering, the College of Design, and the School of Public Health, serving on our advisory boards and teaching our courses. These partnerships help improve our curriculum in order to better serve our students.
I believe everyone who works at the University shares the same values and goals, which are to help all who walk the University of Minnesota campus to discover their best selves.
What opportunities do you see for CCAPS to attract more students to the Twin Cities campus?
We’re recognizing where the University sits geographically, in these two major cities on both sides of the Mississippi River. I think we have this not only important but unique opportunity to influence what happens in our Twin Cities community and in our state.
I'd like to see us attracting more Twin Cities residents. They may be looking at local or online options, but I'd like them to know the U of M is a viable option for them. We need to continue to go into the Twin Cities communities and share the opportunities and positive experiences that are happening on campus, and let our communities know that we see them and we value their participation in the growth of our wonderful university.
We also have to make it financially viable to take classes and pursue a degree.
What part of your career has been the most fulfilling?
The most fulfilling part of my career—and this is probably true for anyone who works in higher education—is to see the success of a student who overcame the odds to earn their degree. I have met with students who were broken and unsure that college was right for them. But I knew, with a little support and encouragement, that they would find a sense of self worth and realize that what they thought was impossible they had just achieved. I beam with pride at every commencement to know I had a little part in the success of our University of Minnesota graduating students.