George Mason University’s Mike Fasil doesn’t feel much like a trailblazer.
But 21-year-old information systems and operations management major from Springfield, Virginia, will be among the university’s first group of graduates awarded a generalist digital technology credential when he graduates on May 17.
“It’s really given me a better perspective,” Fasil said. “I feel like having [the digital credential] will help me. I can only see good things coming from it.”
Mason is among the first universities in the region to have launched a digital technology credential program intended to make sure that all students—regardless of their major—possess the digital skills needed to compete in today’s technology-driven economy.
The digital technology credential program emphasizes data analytics, visualization and cybersecurity and is set according to standards defined by employers from across the region. It merges the humanities and social sciences fields with data analytics and security and could become a national model for regional collaboration between universities and businesses.
The digital technology credential is being championed by the Greater Washington Partnership (GWP)—a civic alliance of CEOs in the region—through its Collaborative of Leaders in Academia and Business (CoLAB) Consortium, a group of 12 universities and 14 leading companies who work together to position the National Capital Region as a leading global hub for innovation.
Liza Wilson Durant, a professor and associate dean for strategic initiatives within Mason’s Volgenau School of Engineering, said this will mark the start of a large pipeline of students with specialized skills and abilities in data analytics and cybersecurity who will graduate from Mason and accelerate the productivity of the regional and national economy.
“Digital technology touches every aspect of 21st-century work, and these first graduates with the GWP Digital Technology Credential are armed not only with knowledge in their chosen profession, such as business or communications, but are positioned to impact decisions informed by their understanding of big data and cybersecurity,” she said. “Undoubtedly, their perspective will be highly sought after and invaluable to the companies and organizations they serve as they bring highly specialized technical knowledge to complement their skills in social sciences, humanities and business.”
Fasil, who will soon be starting a job with a local firm as a business technology consultant, first learned about the program last fall and concluded that adding the data analysis minor necessary for the digital technology credential was well worth it. The program kicked off this spring.
“I figured ‘Why not?’” he said. “Let me try it out and get a wide range of my academics. I researched it a little bit and saw that it was like a solution to a big problem to this area.”
Mason is well-suited to become the first of the participating regional universities to bestow digital technology credentials to its graduates. Its Department of Statistics within the Volgenau School of Engineering already offered a data analysis minor and needed only to add a cybersecurity element to one of the five mandatory classes necessary for eligibility for a generalist credential.
There were 10 students registered in the program this spring, and roughly 200 enrolled in the data analysis minor.
Future plans include making the generalist credential available online for working professionals seeking contemporary skills and building out a specialist credential for students who already have an extensive background in engineering and computer science.
“I think that more or less, I was just in the right place at the right time,” Fasil said. “Having this chance brought forward to me has really opened my eyes, and it’s been an amazing experience.”