Contributive Pathways

April 4, 2020 at 10:36 PM
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By Robert Hamilton, Emily Barrett, and James Stellar


In July, 2017 two instructors at the University of Albany, SUNY, in the College of Emergency Preparedness, Homeland Security, and Cybersecurity[1], SUNY, Robert Hamilton and Emily Barrett, came face-to-face in a chance meeting during lunchtime.

Over the course of a two-hour conversation they both realized that each held a different piece of the same jigsaw puzzle, Robert was involved in the development of a new undergraduate course on cybersecurity, called “The Threat Within” that was based on virtual internships and was done in partnership with a company, iQ4,[2]and Emily was involved in creating a program of real-world Internships for undergraduate students at the college. They quickly realized that they should be partners in a dual pursuit.

More than that, over the course of several discussions, it became clear that they should engage in the development of a shared unified vision, not just combining both of these separate endeavors, but creating an educational model that placed both as unified components at the center of an education and industry partnership. This would result in the creation of both job and training sites for students while they go through their education, in effect, giving experiential learning, an adult seat at the academic table.

After several months of initial work and brainstorming, Robert and Emily presented the result of their collaboration, which was given the title – Contributive Pathways, shown in the diagram below. Note that KSAs, discussed later, means Knowledge Skills and Abilities.

In this blog, Robert and Emily are joined with Jim Stellar[3] to explore this concept and further extend the vision to an institutional level within universities.

In addition to introducing the Contributive Pathways concept, this blog begins to explore the broader questions surrounding two of society’s largest entities that influence student development – Education and the Workplace (or Academia and Industry) through the lens of Contributive Pathways.

The struggle that universities face in preparing their students for the workplace is not a new challenge. It is an age-old problem that is commonly referred to as the workplace skills-gap, but this gap persists despite students receiving a fine classical academic education. The authors strongly believe that this skills issue should be considered even more urgent, given the high national student debt from a college education and the too often subsequent unemployment or malemployment of college graduates. Finally, the industries in which these students work as graduates often complain about the lack of relevant skills despite having the critical thinking ability and factual and theoretical knowledge in their chosen fields.

What is even more troubling is that students may lack a level of clarity in purpose, direction, and maturity needed to succeed in the workplace or even in the choice of further education. The authors have found that experience in the world outside the classroom with an intended career path can engage, motivate, and inspire the students in their fundamental academic studies as well as their skill development, and it can do so while they are in college making them better classroom learners.  As Dr. Stellar likes to say about how to get that maturity in a college education, the key is to, “row the boat with both oars.” The alternative is for us to continue going around in circles in perpetuity!

Three Perspectives on the Origins of Contributive Pathways and the Gap Between Education and Industry

When Robert first began talking to Emily, the topic of bridging the gap between education and industry was central to the discussion and one of his reference points was a concept that he had already spent some time developing – We refer to this concept as the Industry Focus Principle. The principle is simple: Students will find themselves in the workplace, where the quality of the education they received will first be tested. This continues to be true of students who seek further professional educational training in medicine, law, etc.

The solution proffered by the principle is similarly simple – that in addition to its long held goals to instill knowledge and develop critical thinking, Education has a significant responsibility to ensure it is aligned as best it can be to meet the needs of the modern workplace. The principal further holds that Industry equally has a responsibility – to provide the greatest assistance possible to education’s efforts to meet that responsibility.

Of course, in Industry the focus is on making money, as it must be. But we do not see that as a conflict. Better integration with education allows industry to have greater confidence in the quality of its hiring and to have a more rapid rise to employee productivity in onboarding, both of which outcomes save industry money.  There are also other shared long-term responsibilities for both education and industry, such as making a secure productive world in which everyone operates harmoniously.

The principle seeks to encourage Industry to take up the challenge to partner responsibly with the world of Education. After all, it is Industry that is the ultimate benefactor. In fact, the writers take umbrage with the popularly stated description of there being a ‘gap between education and industry’ – They feel it is better to think of it as a “disconnect”, as is illustrated in the horse and cart diagram!  At the very least, this is an important conversation.

As part of the founding team of the new College of Emergency Preparedness, Homeland Security, and Cybersecurity at UAlbany that was designed specifically as a hub-and-spoke model for real-world engagement, Emily had two main objectives for the student internship program; help students connect with the real world to prepare for the workplace, and improve student maturity. Most experiential education opportunities (e.g. field experiences, study abroad, etc.) produce significant change in student maturity.[4] However, that does not always prepare them for the reality of a workplace. This component was still missing. This disconnect, not just in skills, but in the ability to navigate and maneuver within the workplace seemed elusive. As Jim also used to say, public-private partnerships should be easy, but they are not. There was something missing in the communication between Academia and Industry. Robert presented his Industry Focus principle, just as Emily was trying to understand how to get to the essence of this problem, and over the course of several months it would become inevitable that in addressing this disconnect, Contributive Pathways would be born. In their common desire to address the gap between education and academia, Robert and Emily had found unity in purpose.

It is said that the modern workplace is developing much farther and faster than academic institutions can adapt. Contributive Pathways will create a way for an infusion of modern industry practices and needs into the academic world through pollination, cross-fertilization and credentialization. The cyclical nature of this pathway allows for Academia to move at the same pace as industry, while honoring the Industry Focus Principle. Rather than a competitive zero-sum relationship, the relationship between the university and future employers becomes harmonious, continuously refreshed, and strengthened.

During the course of development, Robert and Emilys’ work came to the attention of Jim who was at the time Provost at the University.  He was intrigued and spent some time discussing the concept with Robert encouraging him to pursue, develop and hone it.  Jim’s history with experiential learning background goes back to the 22 years he spent at a cooperative education school, Northeastern University, where students alternate up to three 6-month periods of full-time work with equal periods of full-time study. There, he led the College of Arts and Sciences for 10 years as Dean when it implemented an experiential education requirement into its academic core curriculum.  Many believe that the emphasis on academic excellence university-wide when combined with the real-world grounding of these employment periods, led to the remarkable rise of Northeastern University in US News ranking from around 165 to the 40s today.  Just within the College of Arts and Sciences, SAT scores and other indicators of academic preparedness rose some 250 points driven by a remarkable growth in the size and quality of the freshman applicant pool.

Jim also has a unique perspective on experiential education coming from his background as a neuroscience professor and expressed in his 2017 book[5].  He sees direct experience as strongly impacting what he calls the implicit or unconscious decision-making parts of the brain that are often overlooked.  This implicit learning compliments the learning from the conscious decision-making parts of the brain that has long been catered to by the lecture-style classroom-based curriculum that does efficiently transmit facts and theories.  Experiences, such as internships, study abroad, etc., properly cultivated, can add a new dimension  to academic learning, such as when an intern at an auditing company effectively deals with a customer using classic academic knowledge about an accounting principle.  It is a powerful and authentic learning experience for the student that they bring back to the university in the classroom and with the faculty.

With Jim’s success with experiential learning, Emily’s experience with introducing students to the workforce, and Robert’s experience in developing a virtual experiential process, Contributive Pathways takes shape and form as a powerful means of addressing this long lamented gap.



Modern neuroscience clearly shows that we make decisions in both cognitive and implicit or non-cognitive ways and that when they are combined particularly in a college-level education the students often become much more clear over time about the pathway to discovering who they are, what it is to know something, and how to apply that to their careers and lives after graduation.

Correspondingly, CP combines two educational traditions:

  • The academic classroom model which has been refined for centuries by universities to be highly efficient, effective, and fair; and
  • The older tradition of guild-based apprenticeships where the hands-on application of that knowledge under a master mentor was critical.

The ideas behind CP are threefold:

First, CP aims to build an infrastructure which facilitates and encourages closer collaboration between industry and education to reduce and eventually close any gap[6] between education and industry.

Second, CP is a vision of how student learning in a cognitive intellectual way of which we are typically consciously aware can be paired with a kind of instinctive intuitive way of which we are typically not aware.

Third, CP reflects a contrary approach, to the traditional process of throwing students into what we could call “the deep end of the career swimming pool”. Rather, CP is the implementation of sure and graduated steps from academia to the workplace similar to the process that would be found in entering and transitioning from the shallow to the deep end of a swimming pool

Description of CP Model

In the above model (see the first graphic), students enter a chosen career pathway from the bottom and leave at the top, ideally with a career specific position in the industry or a profession they have chosen at the outset.  Of course, students can enter the CP scheme at any point in their university lives or even before, in high school. They can also change their major, maybe jumping to a different track, with the attendant work of adapting to the new pathway.  The CP model is, in fact, designed to facilitate an early realization for students that they may be on the wrong track and, if so, to help them see how the skill sets from their current or previous tracks may be useful for another. At this point of entry, the students self-elect and then self-assess the Knowledge Skills and Ability (KSA) sets they already have. In the iQ4 program that Robert was involved in developing, this assessment was developed using the NICE/NIST[7] KSA data sets. This gives the students an immediate sense of what paths lie ahead based on what they already have and it shows what they need to get to each of the various cybersecurity career pathways.

It is envisaged that at this point students would be able to make broad decisions as to the areas for which they seem best suited. By studying each student’s KSA set, it is further envisaged that the students can then also see what kind of best paths might be possible and what courses to take in order to build up those KSA sets. At this point the real work of career development begins, but with a lot less reliance on subjectivity (e.g. the extent of their career guidance knowledge).

Entering from the beginning are two forms of mentoring: Workplace Peers and Industry Mentors (pictured in the diagram as “worker bees” bringing the “honey” of experience to the students personally & collectively).

An important manifestation of this model is through the iQ4 platform’s “passport” or digital e-portfolio. Upon the students’ initial entry into the “Threat Within” course (or any other course in the CP program), they are given a software account with this passport. Elsewhere in this document, the passport is described as a co-curricular e-transcript.

We see this entire CP arrangement as a pathway with phases. Students enter into each deeper level or phase by repeating the experiential/academic learning process.  The added value comes from both the structure of advancement in knowledge and skills at each of these levels through academic and experiential learning, and it comes from the repetition of experiences at deeper levels as the pathway proceeds.  Progress in CP is expressed in terms of years in college, but could just as easily be applied to milestones achieved by employees already in a profession, if the company provides an internal learning environment.

What is also exciting is the increasing involvement of entities like the National Student Clearinghouse[8], which traditionally compiles classic transcripts that follow students as they transfer between universities. The digitizing of these transcripts will greatly enhance the efficaciousness of CP. In a sign of the times and the increasing awareness for the advancements the Digital Age has brought this domain, the NSC & iQ4 have joined forces to work together in a bid to digitize the classic transcript AND[9] add a skills-based learning component – the joint venture has even earned both entities an award[10] for their collaborative initiative. Indeed, many other companies also work in this space including Burning Glass[11], which works in all areas of employment; Cyberscore[12], which works in the area of cybersecurity; and K12[13], which works in the on-line public school area with career readiness. In addition to working together many are also starting to work with higher education.

The idea is to encourage both academic learning and skill set development to evolve in unison and merge hitherto disconnected competency measurement systems, as is in keeping with KSA Pollination – a central component of CP and a key Industry/Academia integration cornerstone.

These collaborative technology initiatives will produce college graduates who will not only have a better idea of what they want to do but a stronger knowledge and skill set capacity to do it.




   A. The CP Record: A More In-Depth/Informed Co-Curricular Transcript

One of the most important components of CP is the recording, verification, and defining of skills that students are working on and providing a record of how they mastered those skills. Both academia and industry rely on a standard measure to understand the skill sets of students they are evaluating. The Digital Co-Curricular E-Transcript as mentioned above and as envisioned within the CP ecosystem is one that goes much deeper than the current available options, specifically through KSA pollination and partnerships with industries as we will discuss further below.

There are many analogies for this component, probably the best being that it is in effect a ‘digital’ resume. Within the iQ4 model, this is called a passport. The use of these digital records has enormous potential in addressing the disconnect between Academia and Industry. When students enter a CP ecosystem they complete their profile and add whatever skills they believe they have so far gained creating a digital footprint of the paths the students have thus far travelled. However, from there, it has the potential to assist students make more informed decisions about the paths that may lie ahead of them. The Passport by iQ4 has envisaged future versions that will have the capacity to reveal paths that either match the skill sets the students currently have, or reveal potential paths that may become available once the students add more skills.

A key distinction to make here is that the CP ecosystem co-curricular transcript does not rely on the traditional educational device of grades per subject. Rather, the passport uses the industry standards (the KSAs) and students’ capabilities are judged on them by industry professionals as well as the course instructor.

It is important to note that the industry-based KSAs include both “hard” and “soft” skills, but it is the absence of these less technical skills (ability to work in teams, capability of making a coherent presentation orally or in writing, etc.) that is the topic of much complaint about college education. It is also important to note that the ecosystem is designed to import KSA’s from any industry, not just technical industries, in such a way, that a CP ecosystem or partnership with industry can be deployed for any academic subject.

The iQ4 Cybersecurity course, The Threat Within, is a standard course and part of the academic course flow in the college’s curriculum. It reflects the facts-and-theories part of the hard skills (e.g. knowledge of relevant computer coding languages or soft-ware packages in cybersecurity) and is found in the classical academic transcript. This particular course in the College of Emergency Preparedness, Homeland Security, and Cybersecurity carries 3 credits as approved by the faculty in a classical process of quality control that is ultimately sanctioned by the academic accreditation process. It functions like a project based capstone course where students work in teams, except that it is open to all levels and majors.

Whereas the co-curricular transcript or passport reflects a combination of hard and soft skills driven by the industry KSAs, not just the soft-skills just discussed.  Of course, the passport contains hard skills, as stated, both are present in the student record, and they clearly interact during education and in the search for employment. This co-curricular transcript contains digital badges, e-portfolio documentation, and other forms of experience notation outside the academic credit bearing courses.  Most importantly, the academic and skills-based transcripts can combine.

   B.The KSA Taxonomies

It would seem obvious that KSAs themselves and the work of the virtual mentors in class help support the cap-stone project-based nature of the course.  What may be less obvious is how they create this all-important pathway in the student’s mind that, like other forms of experiential learning, help a student clarify their career path goals while still in college.

As the skill set standard is being promoted and deployed within industry, CP will encourage the merger of the traditional grading process in the traditional college context with the KSA standard.

As already stated, in this course, the KSAs come from the NICE/NIST[14] standards set by industry.  They may be the same KSAs used by industry in their own educational systems and are thus naturally familiar to the virtual mentors.  But we ask what happens if we move to a new area where there is not a standard-setting body or one has not yet been convened?  Here the idea might be that KSAs could be developed on the model of cybersecurity by a deep data analysis of the field’s job descriptions.  Initially, this could be done with machine learning analytic programs and then vetted through industry and as part of the CP pollination process. While we are aware that there is much work to be done in the area of KSA development across various fields, the NICE/NIST[15] framework provided the taxonomy for this course. Another form of developing KSAs will be through the CP component of KSA Pollination, discussed later in this piece.



The faculty instructors are the key to any course, but here their role takes on a broader relevance.  As a practical matter, within CP the traditional role of educators, i.e. instructors and professors is largely unaltered, except that there is now contemplated a more formalized handing-off as students move through the various layers from which a discipline is made up of. Using the current cybersecurity Threat Within course as an example, an Informatics Instructor could lead either one of the mentoring sessions, or one of the associated and key workshop sessions from that program where Informatics content is especially relevant. In this way, the Informatics instructor can set the students up, ahead of entry into the Threat Within course. This process will then very easily map to other types of courses and disciplines.

However, over the deployment of CP, two new and distinct types of instructor roles are created – those of the instructor delivering the virtual internship component (in our case Robert), and the instructor delivering the ‘Real’ internship component (in our case Emily). The writers believe that these new experiential roles at the center of CP help education’s core purpose by putting the Instructor back at the center of the process with a more proactive and engaged role.

   A. The Instructor in the virtual internship course

The course instructor must not only help deliver the content as in a standard course, but must also coordinate with the industry mentors who engage with the students virtually. For some instructors this pivotal role can have a re-energizing effect, but it is also demanding.  The instructor must view everything they do from the ‘big picture’ point of view of promoting the students’ continuing skill development as well as from the more narrow point of view of simply delivering the course material. The instructor must also vitalize the individual career and the confidence/self-realization element of each student.  In our experience, that requires a more personal approach, much like it is done by a hands-on industry supervisor on the job – a challenge to the “guide on the side” thinking in education, and also to the growing prevalence of fully on-line courses.

Robert found that the students who took the course had made a very proactive decision about their lives and their futures. They were ready to challenge themselves, even to the extent that they were willing to entertain taking on roles or tasks that they were usually uncomfortable accepting. For example, leadership roles, or speaking in public. It didn’t even matter if the student failed in their attempt to conquer something – they had confronted a fear, and were now able to put that fear aside and move on. Robert calls this developmental momentum. This is the fuel that drives each students’ effort in bridging the gap between their educational experience, and their eventual prepared introduction to the workplace. Now, when the virtual internship course takes off, these students become highly engaged as they are able to see the development of a pathway for their ultimate career and this alone triggers a conversation inside and outside class that cannot be shut down without damaging the student’s energy. The instructor must be able to ensure these discussions are a positive contribution to the learning experience. This is a pivotal moment in the lives of these students. Although the trend up until this stage of their education has been for academia to reduce Instructor-to-Student engagement – the writers feel this moment is too important, and that this trend needs to be reversed for the Experiential Instructors. Of course the instructor’s shift from the traditional classroom leadership role to more of a facilitator role remains, but the instructor now needs to give very proactive guidance to preserve quality and ensure the most successful outcome for the students. They must be present, available and know how to lead from behind, or the side. This is an environment where the best lessons come from mistakes and the consequences thereof. Ensuring positive outcomes from negative experiences requires skilled and patient oversight.

Career nurturing is the central focus for the instructors who stand at the nexus between education and the future workplace students. They are destined to find themselves key catalysts to the relationship between the conscious and unconscious mind discussed previously. Central to Robert’s belief as an experientially-oriented instructor is that an engaged mind learns naturally and that the primary tool at the disposal of each instructor is the context within which students find themselves. So, while the content may be fixed, Robert’s premise is that the instructor can quite powerfully influence that context, and better enhance each student’s experience. It is the quality of the experience that will define the quality of the learning. The significance of the overlap between Jim’s conscious/unconscious decision-making thesis and the premise upon which Robert bases his experiential instructional approach to experiential course development cannot be overstated as it relates to what lies at the center of CP. Reducing the gap between each student’s cognitive and emotional being brings certainty to their ultimate decision and choice of profession, complementing the overarching purpose of CP and addressing the disconnect between academia and industry. Students do not ‘experience’ in a unilateral fashion because at any one time they are using both the conscious and unconscious parts of their minds.  Additionally, our experience as instructors is that students learn best when they feel good about the learning experience. CP forges its educational benefit from the nexus of both Jim and Robert’s discovery that uniting the hearts and minds of students brings about an explosion of learning within each student.

Robert’s goal as an experiential instructor is to enable the student to see the educational process, not as a collection of check-boxes, from which he or she must pick and then conform to, but rather as an environment seeking to assist each student determine and build on their unique strengths so that they can find a career which is best suited to their unique talents. As one of the CP cybersecurity program’s initial instructors, Robert was most powerfully struck by the gaping void in the students’ possession of ‘Soft Skills’ (leadership, writing, critical thinking, public speaking) that involvement with the program exposed. Curiously, he also found that one of the most powerful elements the course brought was the discovery and self-realization within many of his students that they needed to gain or improve on these skills in order to be ready for the career they were contemplating in the real world.

That they came to this mature realization while in the safe, cocooned, ivory-tower, environment of academia – also struck Robert very powerfully. He realized that this much maligned characteristic of academia was in fact industry’s best friend. Without this, students entering the workforce are forced to ‘practice’ on whatever company employs them and the expense borne by those companies comes at considerable cost. Here Robert, Emily and Jim can directly see the impact CP brings in closing the distance between academia and industry. The ivory tower becomes Industry’s sandbox for academia’s students and industry’s future members.

Of course, this discovery flew in the face of the traditional contempt many people in industry have for academia.  In fact, to his mind, virtual internships actually amplify the ivory-tower value that education brings. The chances that they would reach the workplace as mature adults with stronger soft skills increased exponentially, while the cost to industry could be reduced.

Traditionally, the trend is for student-instructor time to become reduced as most students advance and grow older through the educational system[16]. Greater and more reliance is placed on the influence of peer to peer relationships in aiding the maturing process. CP promotes both a converse and a complimentary approach. Robert’s experience suggests that at this juncture in a student’s career path, the student-to-instructor time should increase rather than decrease while he also instigated a formal peer component – ‘Workplace Peers’(discussed below) in recognition of the power that peer deliverance of knowledge transfer and shared experience brings. The significance of all of this, was that Robert found his role required significant hands-on oversight of, and engagement with the students. In fact, this is contrary to the ‘trend’ of this time, when the digital age is deployed more and more, with less and less Instructor to student direct contact.

The writers’ experience of this new Experiential Instructor’s role, clearly shows that it bucks many strongly held academic trends and presents as a role that can bring pivotal and much needed redirection in education. So, in this sense, CP is yet another innovative concept that presents initially as disruptive.

   B. The Mentors

The mentoring component here came about when iQ4 first brought their virtual internship to market. The idea was to use industry mentors as the vehicle for the flow or exchange of information, particularly current information, between the student and the instructor. It is important to note that the intention was never to replace instruction with mentoring or put another way it was never intended for mentors to take on the role of teachers, professors or instructors. That’s not to say that to some extent, this is what is happening, it very well may be, but rather to identify the perils at the outset that such a direction would bring. That having been said, they indeed are one of the means by which knowledge transfer takes place, and hence the need to address this element of their role, up front and proactively.

In addition to the valuable pedagogical component, mentors provide the important benefit is effectively “bringing the workplace into the classroom” as many have said[17], including  Frank Cicio, CEO of iQ4.  Doing so efficiently is critical to the success of each internship, virtual or real, and this therefore puts the mentors at the center of each internship’s success.

The relationship between the Instructors and the Mentors is similarly critical to the efficaciousness of the program, as each represents one side of the Academia/Industry equation. As CP progresses, the process of standardization of the role of mentors will and should continue to evolve. Robert feels it may very well behove all involved to instigate the creation of a separate Mentoring Body which body could provide oversight, standardization and support for active mentors. This Body would bring a much needed strength to what is presently a nascent entity. The administration component of the mentors’ involvement is also no small task, and this too will require some more thought.

One aspect that Robert discovered during his time at UAlbany, was how important it was that, at the outset mentors knew exactly what they were getting into. To mentor properly takes time, and once committed, it’s not possible for a mentor to extricate themselves without some significant cost to the students and the program.

The writers believe that the creation of a separate mentoring body, which could embody a collegial culture around the active mentors would be a significant driver in the development of CP.  This body could also play a critical role in addressing the many challenges that using mentors creates. For example, each mentor has a full time job, which gets first dibs on that mentor’s time regardless of their commitment to a mentoring role.  To be more explicit, any crisis at their place of work, which requires immediate attention, will divert the mentors’ capacity to be involved in the virtual internship during that period of class time. Although Robert was able to address this challenge when he taught at UAlbany with an innovative approach to scheduling of back-up mentors, the reality of the situation will always remain. While not quite “shepherding cats” – this element will always present as a significant challenge.

   C. The Workplace Peers

The idea for workplace peers (WPPs) has its roots in that almost institutionalized process for onboarding new employees into the workplace – readily identifiable by the phrase “please meet John, they will show you the ropes”. The idea also comes from Robert’s witnessing of the evolutionary and character building ‘self realization’ element referenced above. The greatest reinforcement of it, comes about when students share with other students their own path to self-realization.  This sharing, coupled with the extraordinary power of authenticity when lessons are delivered by peers, puts the concept of WPPs at the heart of the CP model. WPPs  are drawn from previous semesters, and so they are familiar with the program. The idea is to make sure that in creating an environment not only designed to emulate the working environment – it will cause students to fend for themselves. With WPPs to hand, those students will feel support and guidance is constantly available.

WPPs are assigned to each team and are given instructions as to how they are expected to perform. For example they are instructed not to consider themselves teachers but to consider themselves ‘guides’. They are to resist at all times the temptation of leading the team and so forth.

The importance of the WPPs cannot be overstated. In instigating their use in his course, Robert’s main purpose was to address a constant Team Based Learning complaint which is that of social loafing. It is usually very difficult for an instructor to keep themselves appraised as to who is and who is not carrying their weight. For example, attempts to use peer assessment surveys were found by Robert to suffer from the possibility of being influenced by popularity. The data he collected contained so many outliers that he felt this method of isolating ‘loafers’ was extremely unreliable. He gained much better insight from regular meetings with the WPPs.

Another extremely important element of the use of WPPs is that the students who play the role very often have an advantage when it comes to interviewing for jobs, the role they played can go some distance in showing their capabilities and making them both more attractive and ‘pre-tested’ as both employees and future leaders.

   D. Industry Representatives

Not everybody working in industry has what it takes to be a mentor. They may not have the time and, as we have indicated elsewhere, it is best that those who have the enthusiasm, but not the time to realize this incompatibility before they engage as a mentor. However, currently most people in industry fully support the initiative, and these reasons should not preclude those with enthusiasm and time from playing a key role in the CP process. Industry representatives can and will play a key role through networking endeavors and events, industry representatives will be enthusiastic promoters of the CP concept in line with the roles they are already playing both publicly and privately.     This is simply because once the industry/academic connection has been firmly put in place, it will not be possible to disconnect even in those periods outside of regular semesters.

Beyond promoting the endeavor, these industry representatives will also have many other roles to play.  Implementation and support for the internships themselves will obviously go beyond administrative tasks and much effort will be needed to ensure there is consistency and continuity from semester to semester. Internship providers for the real world internships will need to receive constant support and new internship providers will constantly need to be sought out. Much of the drive for this will derive from an eagerness on the part of industry to tap into the ever increasing volume of new employees.

Mentor recruitment will be an ongoing requirement, as will mentor training. The writers envisage that a separate entity – an organization of Mentors, run by Mentors may very well evolve out of the process, and will be needed to both create and set standards for mentoring.

Additionally, the CP KSA pollination process will be a key point of interface between industry and academia, and industry representatives will also find a key role awaiting their input for the development, validation and standardization of both existing and new KSA sets as a part of the KSA Pollination process.

To sum it up, industry representatives will be needed above and beyond providing mentors, to essentially manage Industry’s side of the equation.

   E. Career Advisers

The writers believe a well developed and functioning CP will significantly impact the way career advisers work. CP won’t simply make it easier for them to work with students, but will also increase the efficacy of their efforts. Career Advisors will experience some of the most significant and immediate benefits of working with students in CP integrated programs because of the data, and career projections that are a result of the digital transcript.

There are many benefits for career advisers working with CP. A select few would be:

  • CP brings a more scientific and data driven approach to aligning a student’s talents with the potential career paths that lie ahead for them;
  • CP will allow the advisers and the students to stay in sync with the students’ development, to monitor progress and make proactive decisions as to progress in real-time for modifications to any career plan;
  • CP provides a better medium for students and advisers to engage with each other, which will encourage a continued relationship;
  • The introduction of CP will bring more integration to the profession of Career Advisers.
  • Consistent with CP’s cross-fertilization theme, CP will assist advisers in working with students across any and all majors that have CP programs despite areas of expertise/specialization.
  • Advisers will be better able to monitor the history of their students’ successes and failures, and use this data to inform advising with future and current students;

By using the tools and data that CP provides when advising students about future career paths, career advisers have much more information at their fingertips which allows them to help students on a deeper level, increasing their own level of satisfaction with completing their mission.




The CP Virtual Internship Program:  This component was developed and continues to develop in partnership between various academic institutions and the company, iQ4.  As stated, courses found within this component utilize a capstone-like approach and feature virtual industry mentors to introduce students not only to the academic but to the operational skills required to work in any industry. In the iQ4 model, students can be evaluated against KSAs that are drawn from industry standards and this evaluation is kept in a “passport” that documents student progress including where further work would be useful.

While the writers agree that students of all classes, ages, and disciplines can enter into the CP scheme at any point, in terms of gaining employment the ideal time for admittance into the first of the two tiered internship program would be during the final two semesters of their college education when the reality of graduation is on student’s minds.  However, in terms of personal development, the program presents a very wide array of challenges for students. Some come to the program ill prepared, and not properly equipped on usually one of two grounds; mostly our experience is that they haven’t developed a broad enough set of Soft Skills to properly partake, or; they are ill suited to the specific field they have chosen.  In Robert’s estimation, the majority of his students were glad they took the program and believed they had gained invaluable experience from it and these students should take the course early. This a juncture where the role of the Career advisor will be key to getting the best result for each individual student.

In addition to the high authenticity that students attribute to the virtual internship at the time of delivery, we also believe that the course leads to high rates of industry employment if the student is a senior, or real-world internships or apprenticeships if the student has more time until graduation.  So far in this academic/iQ4 partnership, the company has taken a great interest in helping to identify the industry partners, while the overall running of the course naturally resides under the control of the university and the instructor.

The CP Real World Internship Programs: This component is simply the traditional internship. However, the idea is for it to be integrated with CP and specifically  as a secondary phase of a student’s trajectory through the CP program. This is the  subsequent real world experience for a student after completing the virtual internship. When approaching the real-world internship after having completed the virtual internship, students are better prepared and have a stronger sense of direction in pursuing their real-world internships. The authors have also found that students are also more engaged and perform better in their real-world internships, once they have found this sense of purpose. When the student enters the real-world internship, they are able to continue to use their passport as a guide. The passport and Co-Curricular e-portfolio travels with them through their education and career. The skills they developed in the virtual internship can be improved on and new skills can be added.

Ideally, the same firms from the CP Virtual Internship Program would also serve as internship providers for CP Real World Internship Program. Additionally, the writers believe that the students would benefit, ideally, from the continuity of having the instructor oversee both internships. Furthermore, students tend to be more proactive in finding real world internships that are true fit for their skillset, rather than an internship that simply “checks the box.” The overall result is a significantly more impactful real world internship that reinforces and helps improve on the students growing skillset, preparing them for a smooth entry into the workforce.

   B. KSA Pollination

This component was conceived of by Robert when he became aware that many KSA skill-sets are created in a vacuum, are stagnant and are dedicated to specific forms of context (e.g. Government). He realized that without KSA pollination,  indeed the skills gap might actually be widened. More importantly though, he felt that stagnated KSA sets were in nobody’s interest and that both Academia and Industry needed a process that both insured the KSA sets were constantly evolving and that they always represented any industry’s most current and up to date skill sets. As envisaged by Robert the pollination process would involve multiple elements. An example would be the fact that active mentors and instructors would become sensitive to any deficit between the existing workforce skill-sets and any implemented KSA taxonomy. Through the creation of a reporting system, these deficits could then be monitored and improvements deployed as the partnering community saw fit. Hence, in addition to representing the introduction of experience by mentors returning to the education environment, the Honey Bees in the first graphic also represent this element of feedback in the KSA pollination process.

Another element of the pollination process could be the implementation of standing committees tasked with identifying deficits between active KSA sets and KSA taxonomies and then ensuring the updating of those taxonomies to address those deficits. For example, in the profession of Cyber Security, a KSA is listed in the NICE[18] Framework as follows: Knowledge of risk management processes (e.g., methods for assessing and mitigating risk). Upon review, a committee made up of both industry and academic personnel, may recommend that the example should include the operation of Identifying as part of the KSA description, reasoning that the operation is so critical to the day-to-day work of cyber security professionals that it’s inclusion in the KSA is essential. The KSA would then read: Knowledge of risk management processes (e.g., methods for identifying, assessing and mitigating risk).

Following this CP pollination process, the KSA best reflects the educational component as identified by the combined team of industry professionals and educators. Once adopted, industry now has an updated and redefined KSA while educators can refocus their methods and materials towards meeting this new standard.  Thus, the KSA increasingly becomes a core educational topic for lectures, lessons, exercises, and class materials.

KSA Pollination should and can occur separately from the CP environment in areas where there are no previously developed KSA skill sets. This could create a skills-based platform for academic-industry collaboration that could complement the well developed academic transcript evolved carefully over years under the watchful eye of academic accreditors. But this is a topic for future writing.



We believe that the energy among the students developed in the cybersecurity course at UAlbany, which is replicated in other experiential programs in and out of higher education, is traceable back to the concept of authenticity in the mind of the students.

That authenticity helps to create a credible pathway to a career that leads to somewhere, e.g. a job or further schooling after graduation.  This pathway captures a student’s enthusiasm and typically increases their commitment to the course and to their studies in general. The authenticity is, at least, partially created in the iQ4 cybersecurity course by the presence of virtual mentors themselves who have real-world jobs in the companies at which the students may want to work. There is nothing better at creating authenticity than interacting in the classroom, even if virtually, with someone who deals with fast-changing cyber issues every day, and importantly, has the potential to actually hire you as a student after graduation.

That authenticity is enhanced by the use of a digital e-portfolio passport that documents a student’s progress in learning industry-relevant skills or what the diagram calls KSAs (Key Skills and Abilities).  In the case of this course, those KSAs were derived, as stated, from that National Institute of Cybersecurity Education (NICE[19]) and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and these standards are widely supported by industry. So the skills evaluation has the potential of being real as assessed by the mentors as well as the instructor. Students who experience that KSA evaluation can see it and see how they could use the passport as part of their ultimate job application.  That potential application further enhances authenticity.   

We think experiential education is critical, particularly in a higher education world that is seeking greater efficiencies and more outreach through on-line platforms. While both of these goals are admirable, most certainly, we need to stop squeezing out every last drop of effort that educating our youth requires in our bid to make education either cheaper or more profitable. We need to innovate. We think that CP is a particularly powerful way to do innovative experiential education, and to do it in a modern virtual world.  Because this course brings together the elements of industry (virtual mentor) and academics (the instructor), and because it uses a KSA taxonomy and provides this skill documentation in an e-portfolio, the result is that the course comes across as authentic and that cements in that student motivation that drives learning. The repetition of this experience in CP over the course of a student’s academic career will only strengthen that combined skill and academic learning, and address the ultimate student employability or pursuit of further education, which is typically the point of a student going to college in the first place.

In the final result, Contributive Pathways will weaponize Experiential Learning in the battle to bring Education and Industry together in a shared partnership that benefits everyone.


The authors would like to thank Ian MacDOnald for useful comments on a draft of this document.





[3] Stellar is the experiential education blog organizer and former UAlbany provost



[6]By ‘Gap’ we are referencing the much lamented deficit between the skills traditional education gives students and those skills that the modern workplace wants new employees to possess. In this context education is often referred to as an ‘Ivory Tower’.

[7] National Institute of Cybersecurity Education & National Institute of Standards and Technology


[9]The combination of the academic transcript with the skills based digital transcript provides a more comprehensive understanding of the skills students are learning and the level of mastery they have attained within a given skill set. Frankly, it is the combination of these two that is so central to the success of CP.





[14] National Institute of Cybersecurity Education & National Institute of Standards and Technology

[15] National Institute of Cybersecurity Education & National Institute of Standards and Technology

[16] The one exception is where students identify with the professorial research of faculty and join that operation, perhaps on the way to becoming graduate students after graduation.  This undergraduate research experience, while outside of the CP discussion, is considered one of the richest forms of experiential education, joining full-time work internships, study-abroad, service-learning, etc. as important to the development of maturity in college students.

[17] and (

[18] National Institute of Cybersecurity Education

[19] National Institute of Cybersecurity Education

The Insular Cortex and the Re-representation of Risk

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