Friday, January 27, 2012

WaTER Center Director, David Sabatini, Featured in Jan. 2012 Inform Publication

David Sabatini, a long-time member of the American Oil Chemists' Society and the Surfactants and Detergents Division, has been introducing technology that can remove contaminants from water supplies in remote villages in southern Cambodia and Ethiopia.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

OU course to prepare students to work in developing regions

Beginning in May, the University of Oklahoma will offer a field methods course designed to help prepare engineering students to work in developing regions. Coordinators hope to see other universities around the country create similar programs.

Published: January 18, 2012

NORMAN — About two years ago, members of the engineering faculty at the University of Oklahoma saw a problem.

Students attending the university's engineering school were graduating and going to work in developing countries. But in many cases, these students didn't have sufficient training to work in those environments, said David Sabatini, a professor in OU's School of Civil Engineering and Environmental Science.

“You hear the stories about students who arrive in-country with the best of intentions, but are not fully prepared,” Sabatini said.

Later this year, the university plans to roll out a program it hopes will help solve that problem. Beginning in May, the school will offer a field methods course designed to help prepare students to work in those developing regions, said Sabatini, the director of OU's Water Technologies for Emerging Regions Center, or WaTER Center, a part of the School of Civil Engineering and Environmental Science.

The problem, he said, has been that students were leaving the university and signing up with the Peace Corps, the U.S. Agency for International Development and other nongovernmental organizations without being properly trained to work in developing countries.

When they are in that environment, those students face challenges that don't exist in the United States. They're often in remote areas and don't have access to the same resources they're used to, he said.

How they'll learn

The course will be held six hours a day during the three-week intersession in May, said Jim Chamberlain, the center's staff researcher, and most of that time will be spent in the field. The students will spend an hour to two hours in a lecture session, he said, with the rest being spent outdoors working on a number of projects.

Students will learn to build aboveground composting latrines, drill wells by hand and test for contaminants in a stream. They'll also build bio-sand filters, a type of water filtration system that uses a layer of bacteria to remove contaminants from water.

Because many of the students who participate will go on to do work related to water security and sanitation, it's especially important for them to have a sound background in water testing, as well as construction skills.

“A lot of these kids have never hammered nails before,” he said. “They've certainly never poured concrete or worked with block.”

The students also will learn to write and conduct community health surveys, Chamberlain said.

Those surveys help workers in developing areas get an idea of how people live in the area — where they get their water, for instance, and how to wash dishes. Collecting that information is critical to humanitarian efforts, he said, because it helps workers understand what communities need most.

Sabatini thinks the course is the only one of its kind in the country. Although the program is in its infancy, he said coordinators think it will be a popular offering. The course was initially intended for OU students, Sabatini said, but groups from Oklahoma State University, the University of Kansas and the University of Arkansas also have signed up to participate.

As the program progresses, Sabatini said he hopes to see more participation from other universities in the area.

Eventually, he said, he hopes to see other universities around the country develop similar programs to serve their own students.

“We can't meet the needs of every student in the United States,” Sabatini said. “But we can help pioneer a course that other institutions will choose to emulate.”

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Job prospects for recent Oklahoma college grads vary by major, study says

Architecture and arts degrees topped the list of recent graduate jobless rates in a Georgetown University study released last week. Oklahoma higher education officials say many of those trends are reflected across the state.

January 10, 2012

Although a bachelor's degree is still a good hedge against unemployment, job prospects for recent college graduates vary drastically by major, according to a recent study.

The study, “Hard Times, College Majors, Unemployment and Earnings: Not All College Degrees Are Created Equal,” was conducted by Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce. It was released Wednesday.

The jobless rate for recent college graduates with bachelor's degrees stands at about 8.9 percent, the report states. Although the report characterizes that figure as “unacceptable,” recent graduates still fared better than job seekers with only a high school diploma, who saw an unemployment rate of 22.9 percent. High school dropouts saw an “almost unthinkable” 31.5 percent rate, according to the study.

Even within recent college graduates, the statistics vary widely.

In general, the study suggests, majors that are linked closely to occupations tend to have better employment prospects after graduation. Electrical engineering majors, for example, had a 7.3 percent unemployment rate, while the rate for philosophy and religious studies majors was 10.8 percent.

But that trend doesn't hold true across the board. Unemployment tended to be higher for majors in fields with low demand. Architecture majors, for example, saw the highest unemployment rate with 13.9 percent. Recent graduates with information systems degrees had an unemployment rate of 11.7 percent.

More experienced workers, who are defined as workers ages 30 to 54 years old, tended to fare better in most fields. More experienced information systems workers had an unemployment rate of just 5.4 percent. Because of that trend, the report predicts computer-related majors will bounce back as the recovery progresses.

A temporary trend

Many of those trends are reflected in Oklahoma's colleges and universities, in particular the drop in demand for architecture majors.

“We have experienced that same thing here,” said Bette Scott, director of Career Services at the University of Oklahoma.

Nationwide, construction has slowed since the onset of the recession, and Scott said that's led to a drop in demand for architects. That trend also affects recent graduates in other fields, such as interior design and construction science, she said.

Still, Scott said, that issue isn't a detriment to OU's College of Architecture. The slowdown in hiring is a temporary trend, she said.

“All majors have their hiring ups and downs,” she said.

Pam Ehlers, Oklahoma State University's director of career services, disputed some of the study's findings, particularly in the information technology sector. Ehlers' office handles graduates from all of the university's campuses, including OSU Institute of Technology in Okmulgee.

“Information technology students are in high demand,” she said.

Conventional wisdom has long held that graduates with degrees in liberal arts fields like philosophy and history will have a harder time finding employment than those with more technical degrees. That holds true at OSU, she said, where students with degrees in fields like accounting and engineering seem to be faring fairly well.

Weathering the storm

In general, Ehlers said, Oklahoma seems to have weathered the recession better than many other states. As older workers retire, she said, companies recruit younger workers to take their place, keeping unemployment from skyrocketing.

That being said, Oklahoma hasn't been completely spared the effects of the recession. In 2007, before the economic downturn took hold, recruitment of recent graduates was at “crazy levels,” she said.

Ehlers said she doesn't expect Oklahoma will see those levels again anytime soon. But recruiting appears to be picking up, she said. The university holds its spring semester career fair in February, Ehlers said. During last year's fair, 94 employers came to campus to meet with students, she said. As of this week, 113 employers have signed up for this year's career fair.

That increase in recruiting has also existed at OU, Scott said, and has largely been driven by the oil and natural gas industry. Those companies typically come to campus looking for engineering majors, she said, but they also need to hire other employees, like accountants and human resources representatives.

While the recovery is still far from complete, Scott said she thinks Oklahoma is beginning to shake off the effects of the recession.

“I think we're coming out of it,” she said. “We don't expect it's going to turn around overnight.”