For years, the Rutgers School of Communication and Information (SC&I) has continued to offer educational courses outside of its standard degree programs. The Professional Development Studies (PDS) program, established at SC&I in 1972 as “a separate, self-sustaining unit,” offers current students and mid-career professionals the opportunity to improve their interpersonal communication, public relations, and management skills through four-week online courses, in-class workshops, and private coaching.
Director of Professional Development Studies Regina Efimchik and Program Coordinator Maryanne Surowiec said PDS enables professionals to improve communication skills they might lack. “No matter what field you get into, in order to move up, you need to have great interpersonal skills,” said Surowiec.
Unlike traditional courses, notes Efimchik, many of PDS’ instructor-led courses are online, allowing for a larger diversity in students and course discussions. The program also collaborates with unemployment offices across the state, allowing qualified students to receive state grants to fund PDS courses.
The program has a proven track record, ranging from public relations courses for the U.S. Army, to workshops that teach Chinese students how to navigate American educational and cultural norms. Current clients have included the U.S. Department of Agriculture, students from the Rutgers School of Engineering, and corporate executives.
In addition to online courses and workshops, PDS offers a network of private coaches all over the country. “We’re kind of like a match.com for people who want individual professional coaching,” said Efimchik. “We can connect them to a coach wherever they live, or we do it via Skype and we set up a coaching program for them.”
Although the program accepts current students, PDS focuses on improving the skills of working professionals. “Generally speaking, the students enrolled in our certificate programs have jobs,” said Surowiec. She notes that in many cases, “their bosses might urge them to take classes with us for professional development.”
As the job market continues to shift, it’s becoming more important than ever for professionals to make themselves more marketable. Surowiec feels that “sometimes, people get into certain grooves…and they stop developing. Our goal here is to help them to continue to develop throughout their lives.” According to U.S. Labor statistics, public relations remains a growing field.
So far, student feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. Many of those who attend PDS courses have had little-to-no experience in communications. As a result, the training they receive with PDS has proven invaluable. “The Engineering Department doesn’t really offer courses like the one you have given to us,” wrote one student. Surowiec takes pride in watching students evolve from appearing very shy at the beginning of the course to growing more confident in their presentation skills by the end. As a result, PDS proves just as rewarding for the instructors as it is for students.
“I get really excited about what we do every day,” said Efimchik, “and that’s a great way to wake up in the morning.”
To learn more about Professional Development Studies (PDS), please visit their page on SC&I’s website.