‘Accelerate to Industry’ accelerates at UND
Award-winning A2i program preps grad students for workforce and introduces them to wide range of employers and careers
If you’re a reader of UND Today, you’re familiar with the Chronicle of Higher Education, the national newspaper covering U.S. colleges and universities. That means you’re familiar with headlines such as this one, from March 30: “Job cuts and stagnant salaries.”
The story is only the latest in a long litany of tales about the tough-and-getting-tougher job market for college faculty.
What’s a graduate student to do?
Here’s one answer:
Check out A2i, the program at UND that’s now actively helping graduate students from all disciplines embark on rewarding careers.
A2i stands for Accelerate to Industry. Created by the Graduate School of North Carolina State University, A2i is meant to help graduate students, postdoctoral scholars and graduate alumni explore careers in industry and government.
Because while academic opportunities for PhDs in most fields are scarce, other employers are eager to hire doctoral- and master’s-degree holders with the right skills. Take it from Nancy Nelson, employer relations and systems coordinator for UND Career Services, and an A2i fan:
“We just had a U.S. intelligence agency speak with us,” Nelson said. “Their message was, ‘We have a job for every major.’ And if they do, other organizations do, too.”
What’s more, the people whom the employers are looking for are the ones who have the business, leadership, and communication skills that A2i focuses on, Nelson added. “That’s what makes this program so valuable, and why I’d really encourage graduate students to take part,” she said.
A2i’s goal is to program give students the knowledge, skills, and abilities they’ll need to establish long-term professional success. That happens through workshops, panel discussions, presentations, networking events and team projects, all of them designed to boost awareness of private- and public-sector careers and develop key competencies highly valued by employers.
In February, A2i won the Blackburn Award from the American Association of University Administrators. The Blackburn Award recognizes outstanding programs that offer creative solutions to common problems in higher education, and is the Association’s highest honor.
At UND, A2i got its start when it caught the eye of Chris Nelson, associate dean of the University’s School of Graduate Studies. COVID forced a delay in UND’s first round of A2i workshops, which were scheduled for last summer.
But UND’s A2i program rescheduled its workshops for this spring of this year, and the program recently completed its first module: an eight-week series of seminars on job-search strategies for graduate students.
For one of the seminars, Northrop Grumman’s lead systems engineer talked about “Transitioning from Academia to Industry.” For another, the president and CEO of Minnkota Power told participants about “Leadership and Risk Management.”
North Dakota opportunities
Katie Ralston directs Workforce Development for the North Dakota Department of Commerce. And when she got the chance to lead a UND A2i seminar on “Transitioning from Academia to the Public Sector,” she jumped at it.
“My interest in A2i is twofold,” Ralston told UND Today.
“First, from a professional standpoint, one of the key priorities for the Workforce Development Council is introducing North Dakotans to available opportunities within the state. That means work-based learning experiences at any level of an individual’s education are really important.
“So I was intrigued that we have graduate students who are getting these experiences through A2i. That’s really important,” she said.
Ralston’s other reason for supporting A2i was her own experience. When she’d earned a graduate degree, she said, she’d wondered how to convince employers of the value she’d be bringing out of academia.
“When I heard about A2i, I thought, ‘Gosh, if I could have had this type of experience as a graduate student, that would have helped me learn more quickly what I needed to in order to find a job in the private sector,’ ” she said.
Becca Cruger manages Workforce Development for the Grand Forks Region Economic Development Corp. She’s another who led one of UND’s A2i seminars, hers being on “Using Community Service to Make Your Resume Stand Out.”
“The more we can introduce students to the opportunities that are available in the region, the better off we’ll be,” Cruger said.
One of North Dakota’s biggest exports is its talent, and many of those graduates leave without fully appreciating the exceptional opportunities that now exist throughout the state.
“A great example of those opportunities, and especially for graduate students, is in our unmanned and autonomous systems sector,” Cruger said.
“Over the past five years, we’ve seen that sector grow by 46 percent. That includes not only companies like Department of Defense giants Northrop Grumman or General Atomics, but also startup tech companies like Airtonomy, which are hiring significant numbers of people right now.”
The A2i program helps those employers and others interact with graduate students, and vice versa. Internships and job offers often result, Cruger said.
Next up for A2i
UND’s Chris Nelson agreed, adding that one of the next steps for A2i at the University will be building a network of internship opportunities for graduate students. “If students intern with a company, much of the data shows that they’re more likely to stay with that company,” Nelson said.
“And it’s not just the job experience. They get more embedded in and invested in a community, and that, too, makes them more likely to stay.”
Another A2i module that’s in the works: “We’re moving toward an Immersion Week experience,” Nelson said.
“That will be a series of networking events, including short talks by professionals on, for example, ‘What’s a day like working for a given industry?’, as well as executives talking about leadership, teamwork, collaboration and other skills that are important on a daily basis in the working world.”
The goals will be the same as it is at all A2i events: to help students master those real-world skills, and to introduce those students to employers who are eager to make the most of the students’ skills.
‘Definitely would recommend’
Alissa Siekkinen is an MBA student at UND who just finished up the University’s first series of A2i workshops agreed. “I definitely would recommend A2i to other graduate students, and faculty and staff and postdocs are welcome to come as well,” she said.
The program is both a great networking opportunity and a welcome refresher on industry skills, Siekkinen said. At some of the sessions, she said, “I found myself taking so many notes and thinking, ‘This is exactly what I needed.’ ”
Kayla Klatt agreed. “I have only good things to say about A2i,” said Klatt, like Siekkinen an MBA student at UND.
“Thanks to the program, I was able to connect and have coffee with Becca Cruger, one of the speakers, and as a result made several other connections in the community.” Those latter connections then brought about membership in a local professional organization and a summer internship opportunity.
“I would recommend A2i to any graduate student, regardless of their field,” Klatt said.