The relevance of education to work affects how students feel about their education. A Gallup Strada Education report From College to Life: Relevance and Value of Higher Education defines relevance as having two major points: First, the courses students take relate directly to what they do at work, and second, that they learn important skills in their education that they use in their daily life.
At this time, students are seeing first-hand connections between education, work and daily life. During the Coronavirus pandemic higher education institutions and their students are stepping up to help in multiple ways that make those connections. Their efforts are providing much needed assistance for healthcare workers and patients, as well as showing students the relevance of education to work. Consider these examples:
A fifth-year medical student and his classmate at Columbia Medical School put together the Covid-19 Student Service Corps. Following that model, students at University of Washington and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill started chapters at their schools. Student volunteers perform a variety of services. Medical and nursing students monitor the symptoms of Covid-19 patients released from the hospital and refer patients to doctors if necessary. Fourth-year medical students help first and second-year students when their professors are out of the classroom working in medical settings. Other student volunteers research the virus, and engineering students are making respirator masks.
Students involved in these efforts are doing valuable work that will go with them into their careers. For these students the relevance of education to their work is clear. They are learning and applying skills to important projects during the pandemic. The practical application of their skills and knowledge will benefit them as they enter the workforce.
In addition to student volunteer organizations, universities are showing how creative problem solving increases the relevance of education to work. At State University of New York at Stony Brook, the chemistry department pulled together materials that faculty members had in their labs to develop hand sanitizer using the World Health Organization’s formula. The veterinary diagnostic lab at Oregon State University manufactured a fluid to create a sterile environment for transporting COVID-19 test swabs.
Duke University, University of Nebraska Medical Center and Michigan State University are finding ways to decontaminate N95 masks. Michigan State University repurposed a spiral oven in its Food Processing and Innovation Center to decontaminate the masks.
Across the country, faculty members and students are manufacturing masks and face shields using 3-D printers, giving students the opportunity to see that education is relevant to work and to develop skills they can apply later in their careers. And this isn’t happening solely at large universities and research schools. Bay Mills Community College, a tribal college in Michigan, is collaborating with Eastern Upper Peninsula Intermediate School District and Lake Superior State University. Bay Mills Community College’s advanced manufacturing program started designing a lightweight, reusable face shield at the request of their local community, and each of the collaborating institutions is using their 3-D printing to produce the masks. The students working on this project will recognize the relevance of education to work when they see the masks used by local hospitals, a health center, fire and police departments and an ambulance corps.
Students who have opportunities to work in the medical field, volunteer to work with patients or develop in-demand products are seeing the relevance of education to work. The American Council on Education (ACE) refers to this as learning by doing. Medical students, engineering and manufacturing students, and all the other fields in-between are learning to problem solve and collaborate with others to reach end goals. This is advantageous for all stakeholders. Students will reap the benefits of this learning as they develop critical skills and apply their education to their jobs. Employers who support their employees by giving them tuition assistance will also benefit. ACE states, “learning by doing can be a source of economic growth and opportunity.”
Everyone who has been touched by the Coronavirus will benefit from the skills of students who have worked and volunteered through this pandemic. These students will be valuable employees who have learned relevance to education to work.
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