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Rowan brings master's degree program directly to employer

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Taking a research partnership with technology solutions provider Mission Solutions Engineering LLC a step further, Rowan University has launched its first off-site graduate degree program at the firm's Moorestown training center, to offer employees advanced computer science courses that will expand their technical knowledge and skill sets to help the company stay relevant in an ever-changing field.

"There's a natural need for the university to be able to work with companies like MSE to create opportunities for our students. But companies today are fast-changing entities, so we need to adapt our academic programs based on their needs to work with them," said Parviz Ansari, dean of Rowan's College of Science and Mathematics. "MSE is really embracing that idea by agreeing to do this program, and our hope is this program is a starting point for having more dialogue with companies in the area, so they know what we can offer and how we're willing to offer it to fit their needs."

MSE President Michael Knowles said the firm already had a tuition reimbursement program in place for employees to continue their education, but said the on-site master's program through Rowan offers staff more flexibility and convenience in obtaining advanced degrees.

"We still offer the option for employees to seek advanced degrees and training through other accredited programs ... (but) our employees work long hours, and by having the classroom here, they can avoid commutes and other non-classroom hours and focus on learning," Knowles said in an e-mail. "The short-term impact is that employees see we are an employer that values them. Long term, we and they benefit by keeping us relevant in the marketplace."

Knowles said in an e-mail the graduate degree program is "a natural extension of the relationship we had with Rowan," noting many of the firm's employees received their undergraduate degrees from the university before they were hired, and the company has maintained a contract with the school to provide a hands-on software engineering experience to students since January 2010.

For the first semester of the 30-credit degree program, Rowan professors will teach 25 employees one computer science course, though the covered material and pace of the classes will be determined by the needs of the firm and the students, Ansari said.

"This isn't like a traditional master's program model, because we're offering students the courses as they wish to take them," Ansari said. "The only concrete guideline is they have to complete 10 courses, but what those courses teach them and when they want to take them is up to them and the company."

Ansari said he is looking to extend the program to other local firms in the fields of science and biomedical technology, as the university is currently "introducing key programs that will resonate well with industries in the region as we seek potential partnerships," such as a graduate-level pharmaceutical sciences program that is pending state approval.

"We're very interested in creating employment opportunities for our students, and an industry-university partnership is one solution to the important issue of creating jobs for people who will be experts in advanced technology," Ansari said. "I would not be surprised if, through this partnership, we end up working with MSE on other things, or end up catching the attention of other companies — and that's one goal for us in this program."

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