Preparing Graduates for the Workplace: ECPI University Partnerships

Preparing Graduates for the Workplace: ECPI University Partnerships

At ECPI University, there’s a saying, “employers are our customers, graduates are our product.” That belief is the very reason why some of the nation’s most valued employers seek out ECPI University graduates, and it shapes the curriculum and support systems that drive student success.

Employers play a wide range of roles well beyond hiring graduates and offering externships to students. They provide input on curriculum, get involved in classroom activities, meet with prospective students, and send their own employees to ECPI… Click To Tweet

Think about it. How can an institution of higher learning prepare its graduates for the workplace unless its curriculum is completely aligned with the very specific requirements employers have for the jobs they’re seeking to fill? With each passing year, the best opportunities are becoming more technical. Employers need to focus their energies on what they do best and cannot afford to spend a lot of time with on-the-job training. They want employees who can do the job right away.

At ECPI University, being highly sensitive to employer needs is nothing new. It’s the way things have been done since the school was founded more than 50 years ago. Employers play a wide range of roles well beyond hiring graduates and offering externships to students. They provide input on curriculum, get involved in classroom activities, meet with prospective students, and send their own employees to ECPI for additional education.

Academic Advisory Boards

Members of the Software Development Academic Advisory Board at the Virginia Beach campus

Every program at every campus throughout Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida, and Texas has a local academic advisory board made up of professionals in that particular field. It meets twice yearly to review curriculum and make recommendations based on the ever-changing needs of the workplace. It’s a system that works and employers know it.

“If you want your graduates to stand out, what better way to do that than to tailor your program to the precise requirements of the job,” says ECPI University Director of Career Services Candice Sayre. “Each job has a list of required skills. The applicant who can check off the most boxes is going to get the offer.”

“Being a smaller school, I was amazed at how quickly my suggestions were implemented.” ~ Steve Villalpando – Technical Services & Operations Manager, Farm Bureau Insurance Click To Tweet

Steve Villalpando has been sitting on the Richmond/Innsbrook campus’ Cyber and Network Security Academic Advisory Board for more than three years. He’s the Manager of Technical Services & Operations for Farm Bureau Insurance. “One of the first recommendations I made had to do with troubleshooting,” he says. “I felt the scenarios needed to be a little more realistic. They were good, but if the students followed the steps in the textbook, they could methodically resolve the issue. I gave the faculty some examples I had come across at work, real situations that really make you think on your feet. Being a smaller school, I was amazed at how quickly my suggestions were implemented.

“I have thoroughly enjoyed being on this board. ECPI University has been a good, trusted source for talent and I just want to give something back and help other people get started in this business.”B

In the Classroom

Employers are frequent visitors to campus. They also lecture and provide unique learning opportunities. This spring, Virginia Beach Business Administration students had the opportunity to engage with one the region’s fastest growing tech companies, DOMA Technologies, a data and document management software developer. For six weeks, they researched and developed presentations focused on the company’s challenges and opportunities in the tech space.

Students were separated into groups based on DOMA’s three main markets – federal, state government and local education (S.L.E.D.), and commercial. They were encouraged to take on the role of industry experts bidding on a contract for DOMA’s marketing department. Their goal: conduct in-depth research into their respective market and clarify how DOMA can better succeed within that space.

Each group explored and defined the challenges, weaknesses, and competitor threats in DOMA’s current strategy and offered insights on the path forward. They met department heads to ask questions and gained deeper insight into the inner workings of the company, and as the project progressed, had the opportunity to schedule meetings and engage with the company in a way that mimicked real-world business relationships. “We are very proud to have these connections with the businesses in our region that have a global reach,” says John Rajan, a member of the Business Administration faculty. “Our students are very fortunate to have these hands-on experiences as part of their regular courses.”

In the project’s final phase, students presented their findings in 20-minute presentations to DOMA leadership. “I was tremendously impressed with the level of effort they put into this,” says DOMA Technologies Director of Marketing PJ Yates. “DOMA believes student projects and internships provide a great opportunity to seek out local talent and give back through mentorship. With over 19 years of experience in the tech space, there is so much our talented DOMA team has to offer this next generation. As DOMA continues to grow, we hope to expand project and internship offerings to include additional departments such as Software Development and Sales. This budding program provides the perfect opportunity to help DOMA build valuable community connections and nurture tomorrow’s leaders.” C

Job Fairs


Nearly 100 employers participated in this year’s Palmetto State Job Fair in Columbia, South Carolina

When seeking top talent, some of the nation’s most respected employers turn to ECPI University. Several times a year, each of the campuses host job fairs exclusively for ECPI students and graduates. They are always well attended, often involving more than 50 companies.

On other occasions, ECPI partners with community organizations to provide career opportunities for the community at large. Such is the case with the Palmetto State Job Fair in Columbia, South Carolina. Six years ago, Campus President Jim Rund determined that the community needed a comprehensive professional job fair, so he put together a coalition of regional and state Chambers of Commerce and created one. It’s been full steam ahead ever since. In fact, it’s now the largest professional job fair in the state.

“Working together, we are having a profound effect on the economic development of the region and potentially bettering the lives of our many job seekers.” ~ECPI University Columbia Campus President Jim Rund Click To Tweet

“For our participating employers, this has become a much-anticipated event,” says Mr. Rund. “Working together, we are having a profound effect on the economic development of the region and potentially bettering the lives of our many job seekers.”

This year’s job fair featured nearly 100 employers and close to 1,000 job seekers. Moreover, it yields premier benefits for ECPI students. Eighteen of the companies that were present expressed interest in the University’s Education Partnership Program, 24 wanted to discuss becoming an externship site, and representatives from another 24 companies said they would like to join one of the campus’ academic advisory boards. C

Career Discovery Days

The employer/university relationship even extends to prospective students. Three times yearly, ECPI University hosts Career Discovery Days at each of its campuses. Prospective students are invited to tour the facilities, meet faculty and staff, explore the programs, and see for themselves what hands-on learning actually looks like. Oftentimes, they also have a chance to meet with employers who share with them information about the professions within their respective fields. At the Richmond/Emerywood campus’ most recent Career Discovery Day, more than 20 employers participated.

“This event is another example that sets ECPI University apart from other institutions,” says ECPI University Development Manager Beth Brown. “This transparency allows both parties to see they’re not only enrolling in a program focused on specific skills, but one that can prepare them for high-demand careers.” C

Employer Partnership Program

ECPI University EET graduate Josh Graham outside the shop he manages at Continental Tire.

Sometimes, employers have workers with basic, entry-level skills who are unable to advance without further education. That’s when many of them turn to ECPI University. Through the Employer Partnership Program (EPP), they can offer education benefits to those employees at a cost they can afford. Currently, there are more than 700 companies participating in this program. One of them is Continental Tire in Sumter, South Carolina.

“The flexibility of online learning with outstanding student support really allowed me to be successful. Right now, I have 12 people who work for me and half are getting ready to enroll at ECPI.” ~Josh Graham – EET Graduate,… Click To Tweet

By 2021, the Continental Tire Sumter Plant will employ approximately 1,600 people and the production capacity will increase to more than seven million tires per year.  Josh Graham was one of the plant’s early hires. He started as a technician, but wanted to move up. Taking advantage of the EPP, Josh enrolled in the online Electronics Engineering Technology (EET) program. Shortly after earning his degree, he was promoted to lead technician for the internal repair shop. “The flexibility of online learning with outstanding student support really allowed me to be successful,” says Josh. “Right now, I have 12 people who work in my team and some of them are getting ready to enroll at ECPI.”

Miroslav Gyarmathy is in charge of talent management and organizational development at the plant. He says he has been very pleased with the level of interaction and cooperation. “We have a great relationship,” he says. “This program is really focused on the needs of our employees at Continental Tire Sumter Plant and the flexibility ECPI University offers our people is allowing them to advance within the company.”