Continuing Education group brings industry efficiency to higher education

Date posted: March 3, 2014

web 1Employing high-tech know-how to help programs thrive

Entrepreneurial spirit. Innovative thinking. Market-driven products. All hallmarks of the tech industry.  A growing group of dynamic higher-ed professionals, however, are now taking that spirit and bringing it to the Bellevue College Continuing Education campus – and seeing excellent results.

“We have to actively listen to what is going on out there and ensure that we are delivering on the customer promise,” said Continuing Education Dean Janis Machala.  “We are the face for BC in the business community and we need to make sure we generate graduates both on the credit and non-credit side that have the skill set employers want in this economy.”

That sentiment is truly the driving force at this Continuing Ed campus, located in a business park that at first glance seems more enterprise than education institution.  Not surprisingly, a number of the employees who champion this entrepreneurial take on education come from a technology background – specifically, a Microsoft one.

Microsoft alums Machala, Jeff Brunson, Executive Director of Operations & Finance, Marketing Manager Gayle Solberg, and Marketing Consultant Connie Clarke-Redmond have all found a home at BC Continuing Ed and couldn’t be happier.  The four look back on their time with Microsoft with fondness and appreciation and chalk a number of their successes to their time with the tech giant.  “We embrace change and aren’t afraid of it and think about technology evolutions and inflection points and that’s really important when you think about delivering on educational training,” noted Machala.

“We have the agility to step in and provide what the market wants and there aren’t a lot of institutions that have the power to do that,” added Solberg.

Continuing Education at Bellevue College serves the needs of business, industry, and the community at large with high-quality, relevant classes taught by experienced professionals. They offer the most comprehensive selection of courses among technical and community colleges in Washington state (1,900 last year!), providing a wide array of opportunities for the lifelong learner to develop business acumen or technical skills or take courses for personal enrichment.  With course options ranging from three-hour workshops to ten-week courses and new courses starting throughout the quarter, the Microsoft alums-come- higher-education professionals have enough to keep them on their toes.

One of the distinct ways in which BC Continuing Ed serves the business community is through their certificate programs.  These programs are tailored to the most in-demand skill sets in today’s market and provide a professional credential to program graduates that employers often use as a benchmark for potential hires – due in part because these programs are designed by working professionals for working professionals and offer hands-on instruction in current skills that transfer directly to today’s workplace.

“You want to know that when you get a certificate that it is going to be viable and useful and mean something for a period of time,” Machala said.  Employers know the value of these certificates as well, often angling to meet with students from these programs before they hit the job market.

Given the success of Continuing Education’s certificate programs and the growing Microsoft alumni network within the institution, it comes as no surprise that Continuing Ed is often the organizing force behind some on-site trainings at a number of organizations within Microsoft as well as companies doing business with the tech giant on the Eastside.

“I see a lot of potential in serving the high tech Eastside workforce,” Brunson said.  “Building these business relationships helps us understand how to effectively work and engage with the business community and that is creating a lot of interesting initiatives.”

At the end of the day, this group from Continuing Ed is truly enjoying their encore careers blending the nonprofit with the entrepreneurial: taking the best from both worlds, mixing them up, and seeing what sticks.

“I made the conscious decision that for the last third of my career I really wanted to do something with a social mission and this was the perfect mix: the pace at which Continuing Ed operates is different than the pace at which credit programs operate because we are competing with for-profit… we can put it out on the market and see how it does,” Machala said. “We are innovative and we are able to make things happen entrepreneurially.”

Adds Solberg: “I really enjoy coming into the building every day and I like seeing students around – this is just such a great atmosphere.”