New Tech Track

ILR data courses give students a career boost
Tuesday, February 28, 2017

ILR students are learning more about working with data, thanks to a new technical track that is designed to give them a competitive advantage in their careers.

In the fall, ILR started offering a third data course to help students learn to efficiently collect, organize, analyze and present data using Microsoft Office’s Excel and PowerPoint.

For the first time, a three-course track is preparing students to test for Microsoft specialist certifications in Excel, credentials that are in great demand by employers, said Christina Homrighouse, a senior lecturer in the Department of Human Resources Studies who teaches the classes.

“The tech track sets the bar high, and the certifications move that bar higher. The track is unique to the ILR School in Cornell,” she said. “No other school offers Microsoft certification. It’s one more skill set that makes our students stand out. They will be able to create opportunities for themselves.”

Excel is the primary tool used to collect and analyze data in most organizations, and employers want graduates who can hit the ground running with it, Homrighouse said.

“It’s one thing to say they have taken classes in Excel. It’s another to say they have the industry-recognized certificate that proves they have achieved high levels of proficiency in Excel.”

About 120 students a semester take the first class, Essential Desktop Applications, a two-credit, two-hour weekly class. In the fall semester, 90 percent of the students in the course passed the test to achieve the Microsoft Office Specialist certification. The national average passing rate is 50 percent, she said.

The second class, Advanced Desktop Applications, also two credits and two hours a week, prepares students for the third class, Expert Desktop Applications, a one-credit, seven-week class that leads to students taking the test for the Microsoft Office Specialist Expert in Excel certificate.

In the fall, 12 of the 16 students in the third class passed the test to earn the expert certificate. Nationally, fewer than 50 percent of the test takers pass the expert exam, Christina said.

“I am proud of the students who were the first to take the tests,” she said. “There were lots of lessons learned for me and the students, and I give the students a lot of credit for their hard work. They were excited to receive their certificates from Microsoft.”

Colton Haney, Hotel ’17 a teaching assistant with Homrighouse since fall 2014, earned a specialist certificate in the fall and is taking the expert class this semester.

According to Haney, “The skills students learn in Christina’s classes are vital to going into most work environments.”

“Having the fundamental Excel and PowerPoint skills gives you an advantage over your peers. Taking the first level class sets you apart, but taking the next two levels really separates our students from other employees in the workforce.”

The technical track works in tandem with all other ILR classes, she said. “My students go into other classes, and somewhere along the way, they are going to have to use the information and data they collect in an Office application. We provide a foundation for all of their other learning.”

Homrighouse said Linda Gasser, also a lecturer, was the first to tell her about the certifications more than a year ago, and Lee Dyer, then-department chair, supported its implementation. Michael Radzik and Michael Colunio of Tech Services were instrumental in getting the testing set up in the lab, Homrighouse said.