It was in the midst of the recent recession when Adrian Genesir, product development manager for the College of IT at Western Governors University, began his involvement with the school. With fifteen years of experience as a software engineer and database developer, he stepped into a faculty mentor role at WGU and started directly helping students, some of whom were actively working in the IT field and found their jobs were now in jeopardy, differentiate themselves.
Mentorship is central to the institution’s innovative model of online learning, and, as he took on the role, Genesir saw that WGU was an educational environment wholly different than others he had seen – online or off. Additionally, it was truly helping students navigate the economic downturn. WGU was helping students not just accumulate the IT skills they needed for a career in the future, but helping them get the certification credentials to back up their skills – allowing them to get jobs, keep jobs and even get promoted in the face of a stressful, precarious economic landscape. With those he mentored – even though they were geographically distant – he could feel their excitement at their successes.
“For many students who are already working in IT, certification is their goal to receive that year’s bonus or a salary increase from their company,” Genesir said. “When they pass the Security+, it’s like a big party because they get the bonus at the end of the year or they get the promotion they were looking for.”
But whether they have been working in IT for years, are looking for a career change or are entirely new to the workforce, at WGU they often find reason to celebrate – due in no small part to the school’s emphasis on certification.
As a competency-based institution, WGU uses third-party professional certifications in lieu of final exams when certifications are available for the subject. That means in order to pass a course, a student has to pass a certification exam; the cost of which is included in WGU’s tuition). Genesir is a strong supporter of the model and CompTIA certification.
Genesir sees qualities that make CompTIA certifications’ impact on students’ career prospects particularly positive. CompTIA certifications are vendor-neutral, teaching students skills that allow them to work with industry-wide standards rather than focusing on skills applicable to only one specific system. They also offer a definitive endorsement of a certification holder’s competency, so students can pursue entry-level positions in the field even while they are still attending WGU and picking up further certifications. And, of course, there’s CompTIA’s industry-wide name recognition.
“Everybody knows who CompTIA is,” Genesir said.
Genesir has found CompTIA certification to be valuable even in disciplines outside of the world of IT, and has helped spread the word throughout WGU of the advantages they afford students.
In his current role, while overseeing course creation for the College of IT, Genesir also consults with other colleges in the product development department. This network of instructional designers and product developers all pick each other’s brains to determine what certifications will best serve their students’ needs. This has allowed Genesir the opportunity to spread the word about CompTIA. CompTIA certifications such as CompTIA Project+ and CompTIA Healthcare IT Technician have been implemented in WGU’s College of Business and its health informatics bachelor’s degree program. Both students and instructors are seeing the benefits.
With so many students benefiting from CompTIA certifications both inside and outside of the IT programs at WGU, the institution has become the largest academic supplier of CompTIA exams. Genesir is always working closely with the CompTIA Partnership Program, which enables schools to offer CompTIA certifications to help as many students as possible take and pass these career-changing exams. Through this relationship, Genesir looks forward to a day when WGU can use its unparalleled insight into what students are looking for in order to inform the creation of new CompTIA certifications.
While both CompTIA and WGU are winners in this close, reciprocal relationship, at the end of the day it’s the students who win – and the number of students who are benefiting from CompTIA certifications through WGU just keeps growing.
“When I came to WGU, we had about 7,000 students. Now we have over 58,000,” Genesir said. “We’ve grown almost tenfold in five years. It’s just amazing the amount of students we have helped achieve a degree.”
Matthew Stern is a freelance writer based in Chicago who covers information technology, retail and various other topics and industries.