AUGUSTA, Ga (WJBF) The world can be an uncertain place after college. That’s why faculty and administrators at the University of South Carolina Aiken are working hard to get students workforce-ready. Dr. Daren Timmons is our guest on this edition of The Means Report. He is the provost at USCA. Dr. Timmons talks about cyber curriculum, campus growth, and the opportunity to get real-world job experience before graduation. Watch our interview and be sure to join us Monday afternoons at 12:30 for The Means Report.
Hello, everybody and welcome once again to “The Means Report.” We certainly appreciate you spending part of your day with us. Well, today we’re gonna focus on the University of South Carolina Aiken. You know, I noticed the other night on the news that we had done a series of stories in recent weeks on the happenings at USC Aiken, the headlines that are being made on and off that campus. And so, I decided it was time to have somebody from the university come to “The Means Report” and talk about everything that’s going on. And, you know, when we talk about higher education these days, there’s always some sort of cyber component involved because that does really appear to be the wave of the future. USC Aiken right in the middle of it, right in the thick of all things cyber. They can help you get set for a great career. We’ll take a look at ways that that can happen at USCA, and, of course, we’ll always wrap up “The Means Report” with advice for you and guidance on how to stay in touch and how to shape future editions of this broadcast and get more great guests like Dr. Daren Timmons. He is the provost at the University of South Carolina Aiken. Dr. Timmons, thanks for all you do for our students, for higher education and for being here today. I appreciate it.
You’re welcome. Thanks for the invitation. It’s great to be here.
Well, it’s wonderful to have you for sure. And so, I was talking about stories we’ve done on USCA of late. One was the Advanced Manufacturing Collaborative. I remember reading the story and getting a pretty good feel for what it is, but I thought you’d be much better to explain it to us. The Advanced Manufacturing Collaborative, what is it and how will it be of use when it’s finished?
Sure. Happy to talk about that. The Advanced Manufacturing Collaborative is a Department of Energy construction project, $65 million, 60,000 square feet research facility. So, it is being built on USC Aiken’s campus, and we’ve just begun the construction of that. We’ve saw the dirt moving around, so they’re laying the foundations, the utilities and things like that underground. And very shortly, we’ll start to see some additional height coming to that project.
What are they gonna do there when it’s finished?
Right, so this is gonna be a facility for the Savannah River National Laboratory and most are familiar that the primary site for that is out in the distance behind a fence.
And very difficult to access, very controlled and some amazing work goes on there between the scientists and engineers. But the Department of Energy and Savannah River National Lab wanted to bring some of that expertise out from behind the fence and put that into the public eye. So hence, the Advanced Manufacturing Collaborative.
All right. So, it’s a college campus. There are students everywhere. Will they benefit from this? Will they be able to go in there and see how the real world works when it comes to potentially processing waste or other things that SRNL handles? Can they go in and learn?
So, a couple of things there. So, they’ll probably, there will be about a hundred scientists and engineers from the Savannah River National Lab that’ll reside in that facility. It will also be the home of our engineering program, currently have process engineering as well as mechanical engineering. We’ll also have some computational chemistry, virtual reality and analytical chemistry aspects of our degree programs. So, we actually have residents in the facility. The home of our engineering program, our engineering faculty will have offices there. We have a teaching space and a research lab space. Then access to some of the facilities, as well. So, students will be in and out of that building. Faculty will be in and outta that building. And it’s actually designed to encourage a mixing together of that next generation workforce with the current generation.
Let me ask you about space. So many times on college campuses, they’re landlocked. It’s, there’s no room for growth, yet you’re putting this gigantic facility on your campus. Do you have a lot of open areas over there? It’s been a while since I’ve been on the campus. And is there room for future growth?
Yeah, this is, this was a field that was lightly used-
For intramural activities. And so, it’s a great opportunity to put to additional use there. We do have some additional land across the way next to our convocation center, basketball arena, baseball fields. So, some of the facilities will be built out over there.
All right. So, let’s talk about the Security Operations Center. That’s another thing that we’ve covered in the news here on NewsChannel 6 in recent weeks and months. What will you do there? How does your partnership with the National Guard when it comes to the SOC?
Right, so, really exciting partnership for us, as well, with the South Carolina National Guard. Before I talk about that, we have already established a security operations center at the university. So, this is a room where our students and our staff at the university, they monitor the network for USC Aiken and our system as a whole. And students are already employed in there and finding opportunities to stretch and grow as they’re studying for their bachelor’s degree.
I’m not trying to be funny, but can they change their grades if they wanted to? I mean, these have to be trustworthy kids.
Yeah, they cannot. We obviously have mechanisms in place there, but they are learning to observe and to respond and to report and to address if there’s any incursions that are coming into the university system. So, if we expand that, once the National Guard, so, there’s another National Guard facility or there’s a facility for the National Guard coming to campus, as well, separate from the AMC and the Department of Energy. So, this is a cyber security innovation center. We used to call it the DreamPort is what it’s been in the news over the last couple of years.
So, that facility will be built adjacent to the Advanced Manufacturing Collaborative and right next to our Aiken Scholars Academy and our Ruth Patrick Science Education Center. So, that facility will be the home of our cyber program, our cyber faculty and our cyber students. And that security operations center will be able to expand inside that facility and partner with the National Guard Cyber Warriors to, again, to broaden their horizons and make them better able to enter the workforce upon completion of their degree.
Gosh, Dr. Timmons, if you rewind maybe five to 10 years, it seems that the world is changing at such a rapid pace, especially when it comes to the field of cyber, and colleges like yours, universities are having to adapt and change. Okay, so, you’re in the thick of it every day.
From an academic affairs standpoint, does it feel like you’re constantly pivoting and trying to keep up with the changing times to make sure that your offerings match what the world needs?
Absolutely. Universities aren’t known for their nimbleness.
In terms of degree programs. But we have worked really hard over the last five, six, seven years to embed professional experiences into all of our degree programs. Cyber is just one of them. The SOC is an example of students gaining professional experiences. We have embedded SANS Technology Institute courses within our degree program. So, these are industry recognized, internationally recognized certifications, SANS certs. They’re called GX certs that our students, if they qualify halfway through the degree, there’s an aptitude test. But if they qualify, then they can actually replace four of their college courses with four of these SANS certifications.
And they can graduate with a bachelor’s degree in cybersecurity along with four industry recognized GX certifications.
It sounds like they’re highly employable.
When y’all are finished with ’em, is that true? And are companies just kind of waiting at your door?
We meet regularly with companies saying, please, how can you help us with the workforce needs that we have? And, of course, it’s not just a USC Aiken scenario. It’s every institution. And there is so much need in this country for additional cyber workforce and related. It’s not just cyber, but related to that. And so, we’re trying to be a part of the solution.
Yeah. I was gonna ask you about how broad the need for cyber is. I know that we say so many times here locally that we’re the cyber capital of the world now and that this is where all of the action is when it comes to monitoring our networks. Are there jobs available elsewhere in this country or around the world for the student perhaps who wants to leave the CSRA for their first job?
There is a huge need across our nation. It’s industry need, military need, government need, university need, you know, we’re always looking for another university faculty member to teach this next generation. So, there is need across the country.
Do companies reach out to your students, even though they’re not finished with the degree program yet and, or your faculty perhaps and say, help us with our network security or our IT needs? Is USC Aiken a resource for them?
Well, we are a couple of things there. We are hoping to grow our Security Operations Center into a regional facility where we can actually provide those services to the local school districts, hospitals, small companies and things like that. That’ll be a great resource for our community. The other way is our senior students inside of our computer science program, cybersecurity program, engineering, applied mathematics, they do yearlong capstone projects that are hosted by local industry. So, an industry captain can call and say, “Hey, can I get a team of three?” And he was like, absolutely. Here’s a team of three students that are in their senior year. They’ve spent all this time. They’ve had some professional experience, but now, you take them and you can use them inside the the work that you need to do for your organization.
Gosh, they have to be so far ahead of their peers when they graduate with that kind of experience. Do the companies pay ’em or do they just continue to get college credit?
So, those capstone courses are not paid for the students because they’re part of their curriculum. But often, they do lead to employment options either during a summer internship or perhaps and often for a job after graduation.
We are talking to Dr. Daren Timmons. He’s the provost at the University of South Carolina Aiken. When we come back, we’re gonna talk about USCA’s involvement in the community. We’ll talk about that, kind of get a feel for what life is like on campus if you haven’t been to college in a while on “The Means Report.” Welcome back to “The Means Report.” We are talking to Dr. Daren Timmons. He’s the provost at the University of South Carolina Aiken. And I told him during the break that I’m learning a ton just listening to him. I hope you are, too. There’s so much going on at USCA and in the greater Aiken community. And that’s really where I wanted to start with this segment, Dr. Timmons, is to ask you about your relationship with, let’s just start with the school system. How involved is USCA with the school system and making sure that those kids are on the right track to success after high school?
Yeah, that’s a great question. We love Aiken County Public Schools.
Yeah. I do, too.
And we have a great, great intersection point with them. Actually, I think about over a third of the teachers and staff in the public school district are USC Aiken graduates. So, there’s a natural overlap for there. Of course, we have our School of Education that sends all of our, almost all of our students work there for their student teacher hours inside the public school system and then often will go on to work there, of course. We have a wonderful overlap with the public school system called the Aiken Scholars Academy. So, this is a public high school that we host at USC Aiken. 50 students a year are accepted into the Aiken Scholars Academy program, and they will spend their ninth and 10th grade years inside the facility that’s at USC Aiken, renovated especially for them. And then, for their 11th and 12th grade years, they’re almost fully integrated into USC Aiken dual enrolled courses. And they can actually graduate with close to 60 credit hours of college credit by the time they finish their high school degree.
So, what’s that make ’em? Does it make ’em go into college as a junior almost, or a sophomore at least?
Right, that’s approximately right. So, they can usually transfer all of those courses over to whatever institution they’re applying for. And we’re actually finding, so, we just had our first group of graduates this past year and many of them actually stayed at USC Aiken to complete their undergraduate degree, so they’re in the process right now.
That’s awesome. It’s inspiring that those kids can do that and be so far ahead of the game. What if your child is not one of those top 50 and, you know, they’re not spending their ninth and 10th grade years with y’all? How early do you start talking to a child about college? How early do you start to get a child to focus on some of the subjects that will lead to success in the degree programs you talked about in our first segment?
Right, well, we have an amazing facility, Ruth Patrick Science Education Center.
So, before the pandemic, we were having about 70,000 visits from the public annually. We’re up to about 45,000 now and increasing as we, you know, recover from that time period. But this is an opportunity for school children as well as public, anybody in the public, to come to a planetarium, for example. But school children will come and spend the day with our staff, growing in their understanding of science, technology, engineering, mathematics. It’s a STEM focused program. They host summer camps, either in cyber or in engineering. We host future city competitions where school classes will come and present their ideas about the future and how they could design, for example, a nuclear source of energy for the town that they’ve projected. So, it’s a great opportunity. There’s a planetarium there for folks to come and learn about the night sky or sometimes there’s shows about the body, as well.
Inside that facility. So, it’s a great opportunity for the public to be involved and engaged. I mean, it’s, we start talking to kids about what they can do, you know, in elementary school.
Yeah, and then I think in middle school is really that key time where students are starting to decide what’s the right path for them. Is a college degree or a job? I mean, maybe it’s a little too early to start talking about a job, but it’s not too early to start talking about the things that are exciting to the student and that can turn them onto a career in cyber, for example, or in engineering, or in English, or in political science. All across the way.
This is an unusual question to ask a provost, but do kids need to go to college anymore or does it depend on the child?
So, college is one of the many great opportunities.
So, we recognize that there’s all sorts of ways that we’re made and all sorts of strengths that we have. And going straight into the workforce can be a great option. Going straight into the military can be a great option. Going into a two year or a technical school degree program can be a great option. I think a college degree is a wonderful option.
And certainly what I would recommend from my seat as provost. It’s not the right move for everybody, but there is a great opportunity there, you know. And it’s, a college degree is not what it used to be where we used to think about, oh, you just do a lot of book learning.
Right, again, with the professional experiences that we’ve embedded, I mean, our students are out working in the community, whether it’s in, for their sociology degree, and they’re working in public services, whether it’s for their creative writing or technical writing degree or it’s their communication degree. So, they’re out in the community. They’re working with other companies, and they’re building this resume of skillset that has a great mix for their undergraduate college degree along with those professional experiences.
How much change do you see in a child, in a young adult in four years? Because at the end of the day, we, as parents, send our babies to you, and they’re still growing. You know, at least their freshman and sophomore years, they’re still very much, from my perspective, kids. What do you see from your perspective during their time with you?
So, there is a great degree of sophistication that comes along with spending time studying a discipline deeply. The responsibility that these students hold. They learn to grow up. We talk with parents all the time about, you know, say goodbye. Let them call you. Let them call you. Help them along the way, but encourage them to be their own advocates. Encourage them to hold that responsibility. You know, we talk sometimes about our own kids. It’s like, ah, how are they gonna survive in college?
Because they can’t even get up, you know, to their alarm.
They learn that as they go. When we give them responsibility, we see them respond well with that responsibility.
Yeah, I talked to a USC Aiken student on my way to do this interview today and she said the thing she loves most about college life at USCA is the smaller class sizes. Is that something that y’all are intentional about to make sure that that ratio is as low as it can be? Because she said she’s learning so much so fast because she gets a lot of attention in class.
Yeah, our faculty are extremely dedicated to knowing the individual student, finding where their strengths are and where their weaknesses are and drawing them in to help address both of those. So, those smaller class sizes are really important to us. It’s how we think that next generation is, learns best and will make the greatest impact.
What are you seeing, just big picture, when it comes to remote learning? Of course, that was key during the height of the pandemic, but as we try to put that behind us, do kids still prefer that way of learning? And if so, or is it in large numbers? Or do most kids want to go to campus?
I think it’s a mixture for sure. There is definitely a desire for online learning. Of course, college kids aren’t college kids anymore these days. There’s a broad range of ages from your 17-year-old that’s doing dual enrolled through the normal, traditional college age, all the way to adults that are coming back after maybe raising a family and then wanting to come back and get a bachelor’s degree or a master’s degree. And so, having online options really facilitates a lot of life for a lot of different people. Right now, we have this really growing MBA program that’s fully online, probably has about 600 students in it right now. 25% of our population at the University of South Carolina Aiken are in online programs. So, we have them at the undergraduate level, as well in communication, in emerging media, in psychology, in cybersecurity and in special education, actually.
And in our business programs, as well.
If someone does wanna pick up a master’s or if a young college student is striving toward that, how long does that program take?
So, the MBA program is about a year long.
And then the undergraduate program just depends on how much college that they’ve had before.
It’s a traditional four year degree.
One year for MBA sounds fast. Is it?
It’s an intense program.
It’s a fall, spring, summer, and you’re working.
And, but we recognize that likely, the students in the classes are engaged in a full-time employment opportunity, as well. So, there is a good way to balance that out. And, of course, you can extend that to a year and a half or so. But that would be about the length of it.
The pandemic also had an impact on us in a financial way. It, you know, many people felt the economic pain of it. Are you having any concerns when it comes to fundraising or funding for the university? Are you seeing that?
It’s been a really interesting few years-
Of course, for everyone. We have been a great value at the university for students. We actually know that 50%, almost 50% of our students pay nothing out of pocket for tuition and fees.
After application of scholarships from the state and financial aid and things like that. So, that’s a great value. Almost three quarters of our students end up paying less than half of tuition and fees at the end of the day, and 30% or more have no debt when they finish their college degree at USC Aiken. So, we feel like there’s a great value there.
Yeah, I mentioned your involvement with schools, and you’re also heavily involved with the community. I mean, you mentioned the planetarium. Everything, every time there’s something happening with stars or an eclipse or anything, y’all are the first people we think of as a resource for that not only to witness the event but to hear from an expert about it. What can the community do to help you? What are your needs when it comes from towns on both sides of the river?
Yeah, that’s a great question. We love partnering with any organization. We have opportunities, as I mentioned before, for students to do either internships or capstone projects, guest lecturers here on campus. But happy to engage with any of our local community partners, not just in Aiken, but, of course, in the CSRA. We’re committed to the success of all around. And our students have a great love of being embedded within the community. One of the other things we do, as well, is in our Continuing Education Department, where we have university faculty and others, you know, teaching classes for those on a variety of interesting subjects. And we have a great series that is housed at USC Aiken.
Probably my last question is to just kind of look into the crystal ball and see what you think the future holds for higher education. We’ve talked today about how it’s changing, how students are changing. What do you see 10, 20 years down the road?
Wow, that is a, 10, 20 years is a long time.
Such a long time.
Yes, it is. You know, we see the, and we’ve been a part of that national conversation about, is the college degree valuable anymore? Is this something that we really need to do? And employers are less patient these days in wanting a student to come out of college ready to work. That’s frankly why we’ve embedded these professional experiences all throughout. We hold summer institutes for research and undergraduate in the laboratories, you know, learning to do science, those sorts of things. So, I think we’re responding well to the change in the perspective out there. We certainly are partnered with Aiken Technical College as well as other institutions along the way to recognize different paths that students might take, whether they’re that traditional college age or different, addressing veteran needs, as well, as to to how do we continue to add value both to the individual and to the community. So 10, 20 years from now, who knows?
I mean, we know that the degree, we’re always adding new degree programs and modifying what goes on inside those degree programs. We’re always growing our partnership opportunities with local organizations and industry as a, to best respond, as to best provide the workforce that our community needs and to best elevate that standard of living and that longtime contribution that an individual can make.
Well, we appreciate all you do, Daren Timmons, especially keeping up with, and in many cases, staying ahead of these changing times at the University of South Carolina Aiken. Appreciate you being with me today.
You’re welcome. It was a great time.
It was. I enjoyed it and learned a ton. When we come back, how you can shape future editions of this broadcast. We’ll be right back. Thanks again to Dr. Daren Timmons
Dr. Daren Timmons, USCA (segment 2)