New degree programs keeping up with the economy

Pat Gareau


Hudson Valley introduced a new degree program in mechatronics on Jan. 22. Mechatronics is a field that combines electrical and mechanical engineering. It is the latest in a trend at Hudson Valley of creating new degree programs in high demand fields to keep up with the changing workforce.

The process of identifying a field that is worth exploring for the creation of a program begins with the advisory boards, which are made up of local industry leaders and experts and serve as advisors to academic departments at Hudson Valley.

“As long as I’ve been at Hudson Valley, there has been a statement that we live and die and our advisory boards and our advisory boards, particularly in technology, are direct links to demands in industry. So who better than they to be aware of where we are going and when we are going [and] to keep us ahead of the curve,” said Phil White, Dean of the School of Business and School of Engineering and Industrial Technologies.

After an idea is proposed, which often comes from an advisory board but also can come from faculty, students, or administration, it goes up a chain before becoming a new program. First it is approved by the department, then the school’s dean, then it goes to the Vice President of Academic Affairs, Carolyn Curtis, then to the curriculum committee, then to Hudson Valley President Drew Matonak, then finally to the board of trustees. After making its way through the process at Hudson Valley, it goes to SUNY. It takes around a year typically for a program to be approved, but is sometimes longer or shorter.

the process begins“It has to be something that’s going to serve our students, serve the community, help with securing that a graduate is a well-educated graduate. Sometimes we have to be concerned about transferability of the program…We want to make sure that you guys get what you need. So it has to be relevant, it has to be timely, it has to be something the college can pull off,” said Vice President of Academic Affairs Carolyn Curtis.

In his state of the state and executive budget speech last week, Governor Cuomo said that community colleges need to do better job in focusing on job training and transferability and also stated a goal of making the program approval process move faster.

“We’re anticipating a lot of success,” said White with regard to the new mechatronics program and the new digital marketing program that was also recently announced.

Many of the high demand fields are evolving at a rapid pace and require the school to constantly reevaluate the curriculum. “The hard part is, as these emerging fields evolve, you know they come and they have a certain outcome they’re looking for and they evolve and these things move rather quickly. Our problem, and it’s a good thing because it’s the local governance we go by, but some of the problems are how do we respond quickly enough?” said White.

Other programs in emerging fields that Hudson Valley has created in recent years include photovoltaic installation, semiconductor technology, and wind technician. These programs have struggled to increase enrollment.

“It’s kind of a combination. They don’t really know what we have so we’re trying to bridge that gap where they know what we have and I believe they have to do their part and look and see what we have,” said Margaret Geehan, Dean of the school of liberal arts, who noted she had just met with a local superintendent.

Sometimes an industry can change in a way that adversely affects a program that was thought to be a big draw.

“We had a program that was cutting edge at the time, but consequentially the industry evolved and the demand was not there in our area,” said White about the wind technician program.

For the photovoltaic installation program, the school is in the process of changing the program because it was originally created nearly a decade ago when the technology was much different. The school is working with SolarCIty, a solar installation company, to make the program fit better with current industry standards.

Keeping up with the modern technology can be a tricky task. The school started working on a semiconductor technology program over 10 years ago when Sematec was exploring building a manufacturing facility in the area. The program was revived when GlobalFoundries decided to build a multi-billion dollar plant in Malta.

According to Curtis, the college is always making a constant effort to keep up with the changing economic dynamics and creating new programs accordingly.

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