OSU program serves important niche for professionals, advanced hobbyists

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The staff of Professional and Noncredit Education at OSU help design and promote courses for departments and programs on campus.

Professional development is a popular term in the business world these days. At Oregon State University, OSU Professional and Noncredit Education is bringing the world of professional development to workers and job-seekers around Oregon, as well as OSU faculty and staff.

Unlike traditional campus-based or online degree programs offered at OSU, the programs offered through Professional and Noncredit Education are more focused on one specific skill set that is meant to make an employee more valuable at their current workplace, or give a job-seeker an edge with a professional certification, like the Free-Choice Learning Professional Certificate for museum, zoo and aquarium employees. There are also online and in person courses available for those interested in becoming a master naturalist or start a craft brewery business, among other offerings.

Director Chris LaBelle explained that his program fills in a niche that Extension and Ecampus programs don’t quite reach (all three are part of University Outreach & Engagement). Students tend to be professionals and advanced hobbyists from around the state, and the classes either fulfill criteria for a recognized certification, or in some way offer value related to real-world skills.

“What defines our curriculum development is what are the most important real-world skills in their particular occupation,” LaBelle said.

One of the program’s biggest benefits to the university is that LaBelle’s staff is able to partner with colleges and departments to create professional development courses directly related to their areas of expertise by shaping content, providing instructional design, copy editing and video services, and marketing the courses.

Offering professional development courses can benefit departments or programs in a number of ways. One, it provides an outside source of income. Secondly, it increases OSU’s footprint outside the walls of campus (many courses are Portland or Bend based). And thirdly, offering professional development courses can help researchers and departments meet the outreach requirement attached to many large grants.

LaBelle said students benefit from the expertise of top industry professionals as guest instructors. For instance, the new “Digital Communications and Brand Management” course will bring in experts from REI, the Portland Trailblazers, Adidas and others. The course will culminate in an optional internship, adding to its value as a career-enhancer.

Students signing up for the courses often don’t realize they were created through the Professional and Noncredit Education program.  And that’s fine with LaBelle.

“We try to be invisible, and promote the college,” he said. “That’s what the external audience cares about, that it’s an OSU program.”

Alumni, especially young professionals, are a natural fit with professional development programs, and working with the Alumni Association, LaBelle said they’ve started offering a 10 percent discount to alums. Not only does this allow OSU alums to enhance their marketability, but it continues their relationship with the university after they’ve left campus.

For more information on course offerings, or on how the program can help you develop your own courses, see pne.oregonstate.edu

~ Theresa Hogue

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