Middle Tennessee State University, working with leading tire and rubber company Bridgestone Americas, has created an innovative leadership development program to help women and men already in the workforce enhance their skills and even earn a degree.

Coordinated through MTSU’s University College, the new Applied Leadership certificate program launches this fall, with Bridgestone employees expected among the inaugural group of students. The program offers adult learners already on the job a chance to earn additional job certifications — and even a bachelor’s degree — through online courses and short, intensive on-campus instruction.

“This new program perfectly illustrates the kind of close collaborations this university embraces to fill the educational needs of a dynamic workforce environment in the 21st century,” MTSU President Sidney A. McPhee said Tuesday (June 7) in the MTSU Student Union Building announcing the new program. “I applaud Bridgestone’s leadership for recognizing MTSU’s ability and willingness to develop such a program.”

MTSU President Sidney A. McPhee, left, and Christine Karbowiak, chief administrative officer, chief risk officer and executive vice president of Bridgestone Americas, chat Tuesday, June 7, inside the MTSU Student Union Building before announcing a new workforce leadership program launching this fall. MTSU’s University College collaborated with Bridgestone in developing the program, which targets those already in the workforce

A student enrolling in the program can earn individual certificates in the following four areas: leadership theory; communication and problem solving; leading teams; and leading people and managing change. Each certificate can be earned following the completion of two, seven-week online courses and a one-week intensive training on campus.

Students who obtain all four certificates (10 credit hours each for a total of 40 credit hours) and complete other general education and elective requirements can earn a Bachelor of Science in Liberal Studies with an Applied Leadership Concentration.

The certificate program was founded as the result of conversation between McPhee and Bridgestone, a company with two major manufacturing plants, its Americas headquarters, a distribution center and many retail automotive service centers in Middle Tennessee. Bridgestone Americas is the largest subsidiary of the world’s number one tire and rubber company.

“Our company is on a transformational journey, and leadership is paramount to achieving our near and long-term goals,” said Christine Karbowiak, chief administrative officer, chief risk officer and executive vice president of Bridgestone Americas. “This new Applied Leadership program speaks to the needs of a leadership development program focusing on the core foundations of leadership (vs. career development) not just within Bridgestone, but also in all other companies, across every industry.

“Bridgestone Americas is proud of this work, as it will not only positively impact our teammates, but the Middle Tennessee region and entire state.”

Studies show that by 2020, 65 percent of all jobs in the economy will require postsecondary education and training beyond high school and 35 percent of the job openings will require at least a bachelor’s degree.

This new program also complements Gov. Bill Haslam’s Drive to 55 initiative, which seeks to equip 55 percent of Tennesseans with a college degree or certificate by 2025.

“Reconnecting adult students with higher education is a crucial strategy as we pursue the Drive to 55,” said Mike Krause, executive director of Drive to 55. “MTSU and Bridgestone have created a model program for the rest of the state to emulate.”

MTSU officials believe the program’s flexibility makes it attractive to companies with similar training needs across the state and beyond.

“With the largest adult degree program in the state and a focus on helping adult learners through flexible academic programming, MTSU is uniquely positioned to provide the education and training to its students that employers like Bridgestone demand,” said David Gotcher, interim dean of MTSU’s University College, which provides programs, advising and support for working, older adults looking to continue their educations.

The cross-disciplinary Applied Leadership Concentration will feature instructors from a range of academic areas, including business, organizational communication, sociology and military science.

Peggy Carpenter, assistant dean of academic outreach in University College, noted that the program was designed specifically for the university’s corporate partners, who are facing the retirements of key leadership positions within the baby boomer demographic.

“The next real upswing in the economy could accelerate this exodus and companies are looking to stave off a shortage of qualified workers,” Carpenter said.

The program targets workers who may have no college experience, have taken some college courses, but have yet to earn their degree, or those who already have a college degree but are looking to enhance their skills.

As part of University College’s adult-degree completion program, students may be able to use transfer courses, military training, and prior-learning assessments to earn credits toward a degree. Some companies also have training programs in which they earn certifications that could qualify for college credits, Carpenter added.

“The role of higher education has been changing over the last few years to where we’re now more directly involved with corporations and the workforce to help identify what their needs are,” she said. “We have the experts and by partnering with them, it benefits both of us.”

For more information about MTSU’s University College and the Applied Leadership concentration, call 615-494-7714 or visit http://www.mtsu.edu/university-college/.

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