10 Hot Fields of Study

College majors (right here!) that do the best in the real world.



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Illustrations by Michael Sloan

 

Think global. Study local. Higher education now covers the world, addressing massive challenges: sustainability, new energy solutions, digital media, information technology, international trade, medical breakthroughs and much more. Major corporations are moving onto campus, too, pulling students into new research and ventures.

Here are some CliffsNotes on how regional colleges are jumping in to prepare students for the most promising careers of the next decade.

Ni-how, China: Thick with the BRICs

Brazil, Russia, India and China, often called the BRIC nations, are the world’s biggest emerging markets. They’re stepping up to first-world trade status, followed closely by the Middle East and Africa. Local colleges offer immersion in the culture and business sectors of those nations.

But first, it helps to learn the language. The University of Pittsburgh offers courses in the world’s major languages — and even a dozen that are less-commonly taught, like Swahili and Vietnamese. Pitt’s International Business Center in the Katz School of Business, which launched a Global Management program in 2008, includes language studies as well as business topics. The center bolsters course work with 10-week summer internships in business centers. Preceded by two-week orientations on the business cultures of their destinations, the work assignments include varied levels of language training. This summer, 46 students took advantage of the for-credit experience.

“The program’s been running for three years, beginning in Sao Paolo, Prague and Beijing,” says J.P. Matychak, director of career services for Katz. “We’ve added Madrid, Milan, Berlin and Paris — and we’re investigating India, South Korea and Japan.”

Carnegie Mellon University offered its first section of elementary Chinese in 1992. Today, the Department of Modern Languages offers more than 20 each semester, as well as Mandarin for business managers within the Tepper School of Business. This year, 99 students will major or minor in Chinese studies.

There’s a new demand on the horizon for individuals who can teach Chinese at the pre-college level, too. St. Vincent College recently became one of three colleges in the state to offer a certification program for elementary, middle- and high-school teachers. Students pursuing teacher certification must study abroad one semester or complete an immersion experience. The college arranges such opportunities through cooperative arrangements with Beijing Normal University, Fu Jen University or Wuhan University.

Mad Men: Marketing, Communications and Design

CMU’s School of Design offers undergraduate degrees in communication and industrial design. Dan Boyarski, the design school’s director of alumni relations, says more companies are hiring design professionals because they have a systematic way of creatively resolving problems; meanwhile, companies like Facebook, Twitter and Apple have been seeking these graduates because they’re also users of their products and services. These tech giants are looking for new hires who can think of different ways to extend product lines or build new businesses, enhance the visual impact of their interfaces and improve the user experience.

In the North Hills, La Roche College’s minor in Web design reaches outside the classroom, enabling students to create sites for real-life clients; students have interned in departments at Allegheny General Hospital and Pitt, among other businesses.

Mapping DNA: Biological Science

By Creating a map of our DNA, the human genome project produced an avalanche of data, causing a need for analysts who combine a background in biology with computational and statistical skills. That means you, if you’re equally at home in front of a monitor and a microscope.

Pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies, including many local startups, seek to take advantage of the new data, and are hiring grads who can manage and interpret the information.

The bioinformatics program at St. Vincent provides students with the skills needed to enter the workforce for both companies. At Penn State, the university’s department fuses the expertise of folks in the molecular biology and biochemistry fields.

Going Green: Sustainability Soars

The academic subject of sustainability is still being defined, but its quest to examine the economic, agricultural, health and energy decisions that will sustain human life on earth is rapidly drawing attention from idealistic students and big thinkers. On the rolling former pastureland of Eden Hall Farm, located on the northern edge of Allegheny County, Chatham University is building a brand-new, net-zero energy campus that will be a lab for its School of Sustainability and the Environment.

Chatham has emphasized its legacy in environmental studies since the founding of the Rachel Carson Institute, named in honor of its 1929 alumna, in 1989. The school launched a popular M.A. in food studies in 2010.

“This fall, we will have 70 graduate-level students across our three graduate programs in the School of Sustainability and the Environment,” reports Michael May, director of graduate admission for the university.  “That’s an increase of 30 percent over the previous year.”

In July, Duquesne University held the graduation ceremony for its MBAs in sustainability at an appropriately “green” location: Phipps Conservatory. The 5-year-old program has been ranked in the top 25 internationally by the Aspen Institute for integrating sustainability into a business MBA curriculum and is among the top 10 schools for its size.

At Penn State, a new intercollege sustainability leadership minor combines course work across a number of the university’s colleges.

Engineering has also turned attention to renewable resources: Penn State’s Altoona campus now offers a B.S. in environmental studies (housed within the Division of Mathematics and Natural Sciences). At Pitt, the Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation, within its Swanson School of Engineering, builds on the school’s pioneering work in green construction. Focusing on the design of sustainable neighborhoods, it’s a resource for those earning engineering degrees. Micah Toll, named one of Entrepreneur magazine’s top five college entrepreneurs of 2011, was a Pitt senior working with the center when he invented a sustainable electric bike; the resulting company, Pulse Motors, was his third startup.

Western Pennsylvania’s reputation for brains has surpassed its reputation for brawn. That makes higher education an unusually vibrant scene. One-third of Pittsburgh residents above the age of 25 have a bachelor’s degree, as opposed to the U.S. average of 27.5 percent. A 2010 study reported that one in five 25- to 34-year-old Pittsburghers hold graduate or professional degrees, a ranking that ties the city with Washington, D.C.

Mobile Us: Social & Online Communications

Andrew Stephen, who’s teaching the popular new social- media course in Pitt’s Katz School of Business, says social media is doing more than simply monetizing websites. “Our students are finding when they go to interviews — whether in finance, accounting, consulting or supply chain — that social media is coming up in every conversation,” he says.

While the course, first offered this spring, will be a requirement within the school’s digital marketing curriculum, Stephen stresses that social media “is not marketing-specific anymore. Social interactions can affect how companies deal with new products, and customer service, not just promotion. It runs the gamut.”

CMU’s Entertainment Technology Center creates interactive media — and much more. Students in the master’s program are proudly cross-disciplinary, pooling their skills in computer science, engineering and artistry to create new games, new programming capabilities, animations and even theme park experiences.

Of the 15 startups currently in the Plug and Play Tech Center, a  California incubator, four came from CMU. Strike Fortress, a breakthrough multiplayer video game created by Electronic Artists and Google, was based on work by a group of CMU students. With 3-D graphics, Strike Fortress is written in HTML; because it is accessed through a Web browser, the game can be played on smartphones, tablets or computers without a dedicated gaming device.

The commercial-music industry forecasts a 24-percent increase in tech jobs in the field in the next five years. California University of Pennsylvania’s commercial-music technology major prepares students to work as recording and broadcast engineers, digital composers and arrangers, sound mixers, TV and audio producers, and video-game engineers — all aspects of a music industry estimated to contribute $10.4 billion to the U.S. economy annually. “Cal U is the only four-year college or university in Pennsylvania to offer Pro Tools certification,” says Max Gonano, former chair of the music department. “This is definitely a career-builder for our students.”

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