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Texas A&M at Qatar prepares Qatari industry professionals to pursue university degrees mid-career


Texas A&M University at Qatar has launched a community education program to prepare local industry professionals to pursue university degrees mid-career in order to further their careers. The program comes in response to a demonstrated need for it in the local community, as many mid-level managers without university degrees at industry corporations are being encouraged to pursue university degrees full-time.

Texas A&M at Qatar is offering these individuals an intensive course to help them improve their chance of acceptance in university-level engineering programs and prepare to succeed in those programs if accepted. The course consists of two phases – improving ACT/IELTS scores in phase one and building university readiness in phase two.

Fourteen individuals, ranging from 20 to 40 years old, are participating in the inaugural course, which runs through June 2012. They are employees of Qatar Petrochemical Company (QAPCO) and other local organizations and see great potential for this course to improve their long-term career prospects.

Liticia Salter, director of the University’s Office of Academic Supplemental Instruction Services (OASIS) and course organizer, said, "Up until now, the emphasis in Qatar has been focused on moving students of traditional ages – 18 to 21 years old – into higher education institutions. However, we are beginning to realize some Qatari working professionals are recognizing the need for a degree in higher education in order to be promoted to senior management level. It is exciting to see companies encouraging their valuable employees to go back to school and earn college degrees so that they can progress in their careers."

Khalifa Ali Ismail is a 39-year-old cost control specialist at QAPCO and course participant. He says a university degree is the only thing standing in the way of his promotion to a higher position.

"When I finish a university degree, I will be promoted immediately to the higher position of senior specialist,” says Ismail. “I’ve been waiting for this for four years now. The position I will take when I graduate is open now for me, but they are waiting for me to finish a university degree to fill it. They did not put anyone there so that it will be ready for me when I have the degree."

His colleague Saleh Yaslam A. Kaladi, shift leader at QAPCO and course participant, added that pursuing a university degree will not only give them promotions in the workplace, but also the skills and knowledge necessary to excel in their jobs.

"We have been working for around 15 years in QAPCO, so we have experience," explains Kaladi. "But we should also have more education. We can solve some problems through experience, but there are also details in our jobs that we cannot know through only experience. Knowledge about these details will come from studying the topics in university. This chance QAPCO is giving us to study will improve our job positions, but also our productivity and quality of work."

Salter sees great potential for these adult students to flourish and contribute in the University environment, noting that the idea of adult students is not unusual in other areas of the world.

"Adult students bring a wealth of experience and maturity to a college campus and are welcome in classes," Salter says. "When I was teaching on Texas A&M University’s main campus, it was not unusual to have adult learners in my classes. In my experience, adult learners tend to be focused, self-disciplined and self-directed. These skills make them excellent students."

These individuals from QAPCO and other local organizations bring skills and knowledge from years of professional experience, but they are facing a challenging academic path ahead after being out of school for up to 20 years.

"These individuals have been out of school for a while," said Salter. "When they were in high school here fifteen or more years ago, the educational system was vastly different and likely conducted in Arabic. Returning to school – to a highly ranked, English-based University – is a huge leap. Their learning curve has been nearly vertical, but I have been greatly impressed with their tenacity and patience."

Ismail says he studied basic English in high school but that it did not include any of the words or topics that would be useful in the workplace. He adds that the group has a large amount to learn in mathematics as well, saying, “In high school, we only learned around 20 percent of the math we are learning now.

To address the gap between what these individuals studied in high school and the skills needed for admission to an engineering university today, Texas A&M at Qatar is offering a community education program designed to meet their individual needs. The course features a hybrid approach of in-class lectures, video tutorials, self-guided work and one-on-one practice sessions and tutoring. Participants prepare to take university entrance exams throughout the first phase. They then pursue in-depth foundational courses in English, mathematics, chemistry and soft skills such as time management and note taking throughout the second phase of the course.

Salter says the participants are cautiously optimistic about their new path and the career opportunities it will provide them.

"Taking the step to leave otherwise comfortable careers only to be confronted with things like state-of-the-art educational technology and advanced math, all in English, can be shocking,” explains Salter. “Yet these men were handpicked by their employers for their potential, and they were each very successful managers. Now they have been thrust into a challenging academic environment. On top of this, they are adults, so they have families and the responsibilities attached to that. They are balancing home life and study, which is not easy, but we are already proud of the progress they are making and optimistic about their future potential."

Ismail, Kaladi and their classmates are excited about the opportunities the program is offering them and currently applying to Texas A&M at Qatar for the fall 2012 semester. The University’s admissions requirements are rigorous, regardless of an applicant’s age and background, and participation in the community education program does not guarantee admission to the University’s degree programs. However, these students see the University’s community education program opening new doors for them in their careers and development of skills and knowledge. They are hopeful that the course will help them become qualified, competitive applicants to the University’s degree programs.

Ismail sums this up, saying, "I really think I’m improving myself through this course. I know my skills are better than before."

Dr. Todd Kent, assistant dean for academic affairs, said the University is proud to partner with local companies and organizations such as QAPCO in developing their human capital through this new initiative.

"Part of Texas A&M at Qatar’s mission is to serve the needs of the State of Qatar," said Kent. "The University desires to play a significant role in helping Qatar reach the goals it has outlined in the Qatar National Vision 2030 by developing human capital through higher education. We believe that providing opportunities for adults to transition back to university is one way for Qatar to expand its human capital base and number of skilled professionals. It is exciting and rewarding to pursue Qatar Foundation’s aim of unlocking human potential through working with these adult industry professionals."

Texas A&M at Qatar plans to announce the dates for the fall 2012 community education program in the near future.