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Certificates are ‘stackable credentials’
that can help get grads into workforce
Jan. 12, 2015
With nearly 40 certificate programs available across the Community College of Rhode Island's curriculum, many students are finding flexible options for entering new fields or sharpening their skills with their eyes on advancement.
"The certificate programs are a good choice for our students for many reasons," said Dr. Peter Woodberry, dean of Business, Science and Technology at the college.
"A lot of our population needs to stop [taking classes] and work, and so a certificate may be just what someone needs to make a transition to a new job. Or, with someone new to the field, it's helpful to get his or her foot in the door."
The programs can stand on their own, with curriculums designed to prepare students for the duties specific to each position supplemented by real-world experience via externships.
Woodberry added that the certificate programs also provide what are known as "stackable credentials." This means that "the coursework taken in each certificate can be used toward the completion of an associate degree," he said.
Students who complete a certificate have that skill set in their toolbox and can go back into and out of the field as time and money allows.
For example, two new sequential computer numerical control, or CNC, manufacturing certificates are wholly contained within the associate of science degree in engineering systems technology, said Woodberry.
"When the student comes back after some work experience, or directly after the completion of the certificate program, he or she can continue with an associate degree program," he said.
The breadth of certificate offerings ranges from the technical – manufacturing, computer programming and more – to the social – such as in the Human Services Department, where one can become certified in developmental disabilities or early childhood education, for instance.
Because of the nature of stackable credentials and the college's commitment to continuing education, classes often are composed of returning learners with field experience as well as new students just starting out.
"I think that's really part of the model for the community college that doesn't get matched by most other institutions," said Woodberry. "By mixing students who are newcomers to a field with those who have some experience but need some of the theory behind what they're doing, we allow teamwork across the experience levels."
Kendra Melody of North Attleboro, Massachusetts, was taking classes at CCRI for a few years before she zeroed in on the goal of becoming a dental assistant. This spring, she hopes to graduate from the Dental Assisting certificate program.
"As I learned more about the program, I knew I wanted to try it. And I love it," she said.
Melody said she always knew she was interested in the field, but it was the certificate program that gave her the knowledge and the preparation she needed to break in.
"As time goes on, I feel completely prepared to enter the workforce," she said. "If anything, I'm anxious to get out there. The professors are amazing and I'm surrounded by people with the same goal as me. I've never felt so accomplished."
Caleb Tineo of Johnston, who graduated with his certificate in New Media Communication this spring and associate degree in General Studies this summer, was one of the many students who took advantage of his certificate as a stackable credential.
Tineo dropped out of high school after performing poorly his freshman year. He had lost some ground from transferring and felt as though he had fallen through the cracks. "I knew the material," he recalled. "I was able to take the GED® exam and enter CCRI."
Once at the college, Tineo came into his own; he found the professors more responsive than his past teachers and the material engaged him, but he also was ready to succeed.
When he added an extra course – video and audio editing – to his schedule to qualify as a full-time student, he found his true calling.
"I just fell in love with it. I liked how it was more hands-on – it wasn't just learning by teaching and listening, but learning by doing. That's something that really captivated me," he said.
Tineo took all of the film and video classes that he could. At that point, the New Media Communication certificate had not yet been established, but his aim was simply to become proficient in the field.
"I just wanted to learn more. When they made the certificate program available, I only had one more class to take to finish. It was like a bonus for me," he said.
Tineo learned the ins and outs of video and audio equipment, editing and lighting. But beyond the technical qualifications of his field, he also became well-versed in constructing stories – pitching them for sale or production, writing scripts and conducting interviews.
"Everything, even how you set up the shot, has an important value, even though you might not notice it at first," he said.
Like other certificate programs, Tineo's gave him access to field placement. Tineo helped CCRI Senior Information Technician Norman Grant shoot and edit promotional videos, cover college events and convert files for archiving, among other tasks.
"It was a range of different things, and I loved it. It really confirmed that this was what I wanted to do – it was everything I wanted and more," said Tineo.
Like many students who complete the certificate programs, Tineo was hoping to get his foot into the door in a new field. He is now working for the college in the IT Department as an audiovisual assistant, where his coursework has come in handy, particularly when he helps set up audio, video and computer components for events.
"Most of what I learned to do in this job came from the certificate program," he said.
Tineo plans to work for another year before taking his stackable credentials one step further, hopefully transferring into the film program at the University of Rhode Island to get his bachelor's degree.
"I'd definitely recommend the certificate programs at CCRI," he said.