Helping others reinvent themselves has long been the mantra of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga’s Center for Professional Education.
So it’s only appropriate that the center, better known as CPE, has found a way to reinvent itself during the COVID-19 pandemic.
As a component of the UTC Office of Academic Affairs, CPE focuses on programs that reach out to the Chattanooga community, helping professionals increase their knowledge and value to their careers by offering non-academic degrees, certifications and credentials.
“I think of what we do in two different buckets,” said John Freeze, who joined UTC as the CPE director in 2015. “You have seasoned professionals with some years of experience looking for an industry-recognized credential as a step up in their current role. Then you have folks that are either unemployed or underemployed and they’re looking for some pathway into the workforce.”
When COVID-19 first began to appear on people’s radars back in March, Freeze and his CPE staff knew they had to make revisions to the way they held classes. The center needed to adjust its business model to meet customer needs, they realized, and those customers weren’t coming to campus.
“We recognized early that changes would have to be made and, about two weeks before the University made the shift online, we laid out the blueprint and the plan and began moving our programs online ahead of time,” Freeze said. “We never even took spring break. We just went from face-to-face right into online.
Going online was actually increased the center’s value to the community with its online presence, he adds.
“We never really did much online, but when we shifted online it expanded our opportunities tremendously.”
Freeze cited CPE’s shift of its fall Supply Chain course from face-to-face to virtual. By moving the class online, “we’re not geographically-bound anymore. We don’t have to focus on targeting people in a 25- to 30-mile radius of Chattanooga,” he said.
The course has participants from as far away as Kennesaw, Georgia, and Huntsville, Alabama, he noted.
“At the end of the day, what we saw was a significant increase in the number of people taking this class and significant distancing of where they were taking it from. We’re looking at this as an opportunity to say, ‘Hey, let’s not think about going back to the old way of doing this. Let’s embrace this and look at how we are going to innovate our business going forward.’”
The CPE offers a wide array of course topics, ranging from leadership to communication to personality assessments, from using Excel software to project management. Over the last year, the center partnered with 12 companies to train 250 individuals, enrolled nearly 100 students in its Medical Career Academy programs and had close to 400 participants in its Chattanooga Advanced Placement Summer Institute summit for the teaching community.
CPE also adds value to the UTC brand by maintaining connections to the community at large, Freeze said. Continuing education opportunities through credentialing and licensing allows UTC to be a provider in a non-traditional sense.
CPE employees also have opportunities to serve alongside professional organizations in the Chattanooga community.
“For instance, I’m the current president of the Enterprise Gateway Chamber Council, one of the Chamber of Commerce’s 12 regional councils. I’m serving in that capacity ostensibly on behalf of UTC because I do that as a part of my community-facing job,” Freeze said.
“Ginger Duggan, our assistant director for business development, is connected to the Project Management Institute (PMI) chapter in Chattanooga. The same thing goes for human resources, supply chain and all of our spaces.
“So we invest our time in the community in those ways, and that brings some value-add to the University by being part of this ecosystem-at-large,” he said.