Erickson’s success wasn’t just a lucky break during a difficult time. Throughout his undergraduate years, he made incremental progress toward full-time employment.
“It was a perfect opportunity for me to get established in the geospatial field and gave me a really good skill set for my future position,” Erickson said.
After only a few courses in geospatial technology during his first year of college, Erickson landed a summer job as a part-time GIS specialist with his hometown of Evanston, Wyoming. He kept the job throughout his undergraduate years, making more money than he would in most student jobs. He continued to build on his geospatial technology skills at Weber State, graduating with an advanced certificate in geospatial analysis in addition to his bachelor’s degree.
The certificate Erickson earned is one of two offered by Weber State’s Northern Utah Geospatial Technology Education Program (NUGeoTec), which also offers an entry-level certificate. Either credential makes students hireable in the field after only two semesters of coursework.
It was a perfect opportunity for me to get established in the geospatial field and gave me a really good skill set for my future position.
Given the employment success of Erickson and other students who’ve earned geospatial technology certificates, it’s no surprise that NUGeoTec faculty jumped at the opportunity to apply for a competitive state grant to expand the program’s enrollment.
Utah allocated a portion of the state’s allotted funding from the CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) Act toward an initiative called “Learn & Work in Utah,” which gave colleges and universities the opportunity to compete for funding to train Utah residents affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
NUGeoTec was one of 16 Weber State programs that were awarded grants from this funding after applying at the state level, bringing in almost $2 million to the university.
Most of those funds went toward student tuition for courses during fall and spring semesters, supporting more than 1,200 Utah residents pursuing certificates ranging from instructional design to law enforcement.
WSU Learn & Work Funding by the Numbers
WSU Learn & Work CARES Funding
Total Number of Students
Learn & Work Programs
Average Tuition Amount per Student
Learn & Work Funding by Program
Certificate and Credit-Granting Programs
School of Computing Digital Badges
Northern Utah Geospatial Technology Education Program (NUGeoTec) Certificates
Medical Laboratory Assistant Certificate
Instructional Design Certificate
Computer Science Flex Certificates
Engineering, Applied Science & Technology Certificates of Proficiency
Graduate Certificate in Cybersecurity
Graduate Certificate in Business Analytics
Graduate Certificate in Business Development
Certificate in Systems Engineering
Online Entrepreneurship Courses
Law Enforcement Academy
The certificates offered through these programs can be stand-alone credentials, qualifying students to work immediately upon completion, said
James Taylor, director of Weber State’s Office of Sponsored Projects and Technology Commercialization.
Erickson has seen job postings for geospatial technology positions in northern Utah that offer $20 an hour or more, he said, requiring only a certificate and a high school diploma.
“As soon as students get a year’s worth of experience in school, they can find a decent job to provide for themselves or their families,” Erickson said.
Most of the certificates also provide foundational credit for associate’s and bachelor’s degrees, Taylor said. This makes them “stackable” credentials that allow students to progress in their careers while continuing to pursue a degree, formalizing an approach like the one Erickson took.
“A lot of our programs are for academic credit,” Taylor said. “Weber State is really unique in that way.”
CARES for COVID-19 Relief
Learn & Work programs are only one way Federal CARES Act funding is supporting Weber State. The university has received five other grants of CARES funding to address needs associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Three grants totaling $12.3 million were awarded through the U.S. Department of Education. They funded direct financial aid for students, the costs of rapidly transitioning to online learning, refunds of housing and tuition expenses, and training for faculty and staff, among other needs. The first grant of $5.86 million was dedicated to student financial assistance, as was a portion of the second grant.
Weber State also received two grants of CARES funding from local agencies, one for $6.56 million through the Utah Education and Telehealth Network (UETN), the other for $750,000 through Weber County. The UETN grant covered education technology expenses, including a suite of new technology and collaboration spaces based in Lampros Hall and the Stewart Library, called the Digital Fluency District. The Weber County grant paid for personal protective equipment and cleaning supplies, parts of the Digital Fluency District, and equipment for radiology and respiratory therapy students to use in simulations that replaced the clinical experiences they lost due to the pandemic.
This is true of Weber State’s new CS Flex program in computer science, which was also awarded Learn & Work grant funding. CS Flex allows students to take computer science courses online at their own pace, completing an associate’s degree in about 14 months, though the time frame is flexible. The courses don’t follow the schedule of a traditional semester, so students can start whenever they’re ready.
With the grant, CS Flex paid the tuition of select students taking any of the program’s first four courses, allowing them to earn a certificate in computer programming essentials on their way to an associate’s degree in computer science.
Because the program is online, CS Flex also opens opportunities for people across the state to earn a computer science credential.
, a resident of Hurricane in southern Utah, is a CS Flex student who was selected to receive Learn & Work tuition support. Prior to this, King had been awarded a scholarship that was discontinued because of the pandemic. Losing the scholarship made her consider postponing her courses so she could save money for tuition. Stacey King
“The CARES funding provided what I needed to keep going,” King said.
King teaches high school math for Utah Online School, a public school open to students across the state. CS Flex courses will allow her to earn an endorsement in computer science from the Utah State Board of Education. This will qualify her to teach high school computer science, expanding her school’s course offerings and equipping her students with marketable skills. The endorsement also comes with a pay raise.
Having flexibility in her coursework has been essential, King said, since her job teaching online has ballooned due to the pandemic, and she has four children of her own.
“CS Flex courses are built to be accelerated, so you can finish them quickly,” King said. “But they also have the flexibility to take more time if you have a rough week or if something just isn't clicking.”
CS Flex was a new program in fall 2020, so it was a big surprise when it received more than $350,000 through the Learn & Work initiative, said
Linda DuHadway, associate professor of computer science and CS Flex coordinator. The grant was a major vote of confidence in the program, she said, which was reinforced by a surge of student interest.
The program’s goal was to enroll 90 students for fall semester, DuHadway said. It ultimately enrolled more than 200 students and provided tuition support for 119.
“There were students who only tried CS Flex because this funding was available,” DuHadway said.
By jumpstarting the growth of these certificate programs, many of them designed to address long-standing regional shortages in the technology workforce, Taylor thinks the Learn & Work funding will have far-reaching effects on the local economy.
“These programs will grow and prosper even after this funding ends because they’re fulfilling a need,” he said.