Prospective GIST graduate students may wonder how they fit in with their peers. Although many types of online students from different backgrounds exist, they typically fall in two camps: students coming directly from undergrad and students already in the workforce. The big question is: How do the NC State GIST graduate programs appeal to and accommodate both populations?
The GIST Student Population
GIST program students fall into two main populations: (1) students straight out of undergraduate studies or only 1-2 years removed from school and (2) working professionals returning to earn an advanced degree. Therefore, our students range in age from their early 20’s to their 60’s. We do find that more and more students are coming straight from undergrad into the GIST program as awareness of GIS at the undergraduate level becomes more and more prevalent.
Integrating both student populations into the same program presents challenges, including:
- managing expectations;
- navigating the diversity of prior knowledge and/or experience with online courses; and
- reaching students who are school-savvy, but lack work experience as well as students who are professional, but not grad school-savvy.
Helping with Integration; Addressing Academic Challenges
- GIST Intro Course: Students enter the program with diverse levels of recent university experience and in-field experience; therefore, the introductory GIST class includes technical GIS and online learning basics to immediately level the playing field. That’s why the course is required for all students, even typically for those with substantial GIS expertise.
- Orientation: For students who are re-entering education after a prolonged absence or for first-time online students, our in-depth orientation includes a devoted section on online learning. All program students also participate in DELTA’s virtual orientation to help students acclimate to online learning environments.
- Collaboration: To help students with varying levels of experience connect, we extensively use collaborative forums in which more experienced professional students often help less experienced students troubleshoot and problem solve, serving as a learning experience for both student types.
- Intentional Curriculum: The GIST curriculum begins with advanced basics to orient all students, regardless of experience, to the latest technical expertise. We quickly transition to theory and development, which prepares younger graduates to enter the workforce at a higher level and existing professionals to get promoted or transition existing skill sets to higher levels within their organizations.
- Capstone Experience: Our GIST Online Capstone Experience aids students in selecting individualized projects based on their skill sets, but also allows working professionals to build off their current work if appropriate.
- Flexibility: We also have built-in flexibility in the GIST curriculum where students can select electives that speak to their existing experience level; therefore, some students may elect technical courses, while others seek out specific topic concentrations or advanced methods, in addition to our required core courses.
Whether you’re fresh out of undergraduate or have been working in GIST for a decade, the GIST program helps all students make the most of their NC State graduate education. Want to learn more? Watch our GIST program video and hear directly from students as they share their experiences at NC State.
Check back each month as we take a look at a different part of GIST and learn more about the students and faculty at NC State.