Annika Patel, VCU student ambassador for the Capital CoLAB.
Annika Patel, VCU student ambassador for the Capital CoLAB.

Annika Patel wants to talk about your spring semester schedule

Her message: You’re closer than you think to two computer certifications

Annika Patel is a junior from Yorktown, Virginia. She’s majoring in health, physical and exercise science and plans to become a physician’s assistant.

You may have met her already. If so, chances are she told you about a couple of ways you can add a big boost to your resume — no matter what your major is.

Patel is VCU’s student ambassador for the Capital CoLAB. Capital CoLAB is a group of companies and universities in Virginia, D.C. and Maryland working to give all students technology skills that will make them instantly employable.

Now that spring registration is open, VCU Engineering caught up with Patel to find out why she thinks VCU students should be enrolling in courses toward the Capital CoLAB’s digital generalist credential and VCU’s Fundamentals of Computing baccalaureate certificate.

So, Annika, what are the digital generalist credential and the Fundamentals of Computing certificate?

These are technology certifications geared toward students in non-STEM majors. They quickly prepare students for jobs that require skills like data analysis or visualization or data security. A student can earn them by taking three or four online classes. And once they do, students have access to exclusive opportunities for mentorships, internships, insights into the job market and other opportunities to fuel their growth potential in general.

What are the main advantages?

The biggest advantage is that it makes you a super marketable candidate — even if you’re not majoring in something “marketable.” The Capital CoLAB’s overall goal is to connect students with top businesses in the region, companies like Capital One, JP Morgan, Amazon, Deloitte and many others. Those companies are all working with CoLAB because they need more entry-level employees with basic programming, data and cybersecurity skills.

If you take the three classes and get the credential, you receive a badge on your resume. When these employers see that badge, it pushes you to the front of the line. In fact, some of their internship spots and full-time opportunities are reserved specifically for students who have the digital tech credential.

And, again, if you take the additional class and get the Fundamentals of Computing baccalaureate certificate, that goes on your permanent college transcript.

How do students respond when you talk to them about these opportunities?

I've actually had a lot of students come to me to ask about them. A lot of them bring up the pandemic and say they realize how much easier it is to get jobs if you have certain technology skills. A lot of them are non-computer-science and non-STEM majors, so they’re concerned about not having these skills. I always tell them that it’s not too late, and that the digital tech credential program and Fundamentals of Computing baccalaureate certificate are really smart ways to get them. When they find out they can get them by taking three or four online classes, most of them ask me how they can sign up!

How do you earn these digital technology certifications?

To get the digital tech credential at VCU only requires three classes. The prerequisite is Computer Science 210, which is a computers and programming course. After that, a student would take a data science course [Computer Science 330] and a cybersecurity course [Computer Science 340]. That’s it.

If students take one more class in software engineering and web development [CMSC 320], they also earn the Fundamentals of Computing baccalaureate certificate, which will actually be added to their VCU transcript.

All of the courses are online and designed to give students with no computer science background the digital skills employers are looking for.

And how do students sign up?

Students should talk to their advisers right now, while they are registering for spring classes. They’re only a couple of semesters away from two certifications! These classes are really easy to fit into your schedule because they’re online. Students register for these courses through Banner, just like they would register for their other classes. They will also want to officially enroll in the Capital CoLAB credentialing program, which they can do at capitalcolab.com/community/.

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