College Students Can Future-Proof Their Careers With These Five Skills

By August 5, 2022Metaverse
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Advances in artificial intelligence and the metaverse will change the world we live in—and bring new classes to curriculums in coming years. Students will need to learn new skills, as well as hone some older ones, to keep up in fast-developing fields, educators say.

Here’s a look ahead at some of the new offerings students can expect on the syllabus.

Entrepreneurship in the Metaverse

Big tech companies’ major investments in the metaverse could open money-making opportunities to entrepreneurs of the future. New classes will aim to teach students how to profit in this unfamiliar environment.

The University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business is adding a course this fall on creating value in the metaverse.

Students doing business in the metaverse will need to reconsider ideas about pricing and cost of production, says Anton Korinek, an economics professor who will co-teach the class. Think of a New York penthouse with stunning views of Central Park. In the real world, the property has value because of its beauty and because the supply of such prime real estate is limited. In the metaverse, the apartment’s views could be copied and sold many times over–perhaps creating more potential value overall but lowering the value that comes from scarcity.

The digital vouchers of authenticity known as NFTs, or nonfungible tokens, seek to recreate the value from scarcity, Dr. Korinek says. How that plays out is another question.

“If so many of our big tech corporations are making big bets on the metaverse, there’s bound to be some promise for value creation there,” he said. “For a lot of students, it’s going to be really beneficial to know a little more about it.”

This fall’s class has hit its 65-student capacity, and students are registering for a waitlist.

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Illustration: Francesco Ciccolella

Ethics and AI

Artificial intelligence has a growing influence in areas from hiring decisions to how autonomous vehicles drive. As a result, today’s students will increasingly face ethical decisions relating to AI in their future careers, some educators say.

For instance, how much risk is acceptable to build into machines? Engineers will need to make those determinations for their products, says Martin Peterson, a Texas A&M University professor of philosophy and engineering history and ethics. It could be a life-or-death calculation as artificial intelligence enters medical care, influencing doctors’ diagnoses and treatments, he says.

Texas A&M is developing a class on the ethics of AI alongside more than a dozen other universities that have received funding from the National Humanities Center, a North Carolina-based nonprofit, to dig into these key issues. Each school will develop a course on responsible AI with money from the overall $800,000 grant to the center from Google.

“We need to discuss it with our students—we need to give them the tools to think critically about AI,” Dr. Peterson says.

The campuses will debut courses on responsible artificial intelligence in 2023.

Illustration: Francesco Ciccolella

Networking 101

Recruiters meeting young job applicants might find themselves working an awkward room. Because of the virtual internships and online classes that were common during the pandemic, many students missed out on learning social skills important to their careers. Giving them explicit instructions on networking and professional ethics will be a greater part of the curriculum in the future, some campus officials say.

In the fall, Michigan State University’s Broad College of Business is teaching a course for some undergrads that focuses on basics—like resume development and making a LinkedIn profile—and softer social skills. The class, piloted last year, will be required for many business students.

In one exercise, volunteers form a circle around someone acting as a recruiter, practicing the chit-chat common to networking events. The class will teach how to respectfully join a circle, what questions to ask and how to maintain a connection after an event, says Marla McGraw, director of career management. Sometimes, these mock conversations are students’ first introduction to in-person networking. “The need was always there, but it wasn’t as broad of a need,” Ms. McGraw says.

Illustration: Francesco Ciccolella

Designing for Natural Disasters

Architects, engineers and planners will increasingly need to consider environmental risk as they plan for civic areas, schools and workplaces. The frequency of wildfires, flooding and hurricanes have brought these issues to the forefront, says Miho Mazereeuw, a professor of architecture and urbanism at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

“It’s an all-hands-on-deck effort now,” she says.

At MIT, Dr. Mazereeuw has taught classes on disaster-resilient design and innovation for disaster relief and preparedness. In the future, she says, similar issues should be part of middle- and high-school education as well.

Last semester, one student analyzed a neighborhood in Boston, wondering whether a high-school parking lot could, hypothetically, be a safe place for residents to shelter as existing evacuation centers were located in flood zones. Students weighed how to build environments that can cope with a changing climate as well as the social inequities that disasters reveal.

These days, students come into the class “very serious and very motivated” to dig into the issues, Dr. Mazereeuw says. “I no longer have to explain why I’m teaching the class, which is really unfortunate, but it’s where we are now.”

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Illustration: Francesco Ciccolella

Building a Personal Brand

Students have long known that becoming an influencer is an accessible way to make money, with classmates advertising brands on Instagram and TikTok. Legislation has allowed college athletes to profit off of their names and images, too.

Marketers will spend $4.62 billion on influencer campaigns in 2023, up from $3.69 billion in 2021, according to a forecast from the market-research company eMarketer and Insider Intelligence. Higher education is adapting, with colleges offering new courses on media influence and personal branding.

Some classes, including one at the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley, focus on building a personal brand. Students learn how to come up with a pitch and identify a company they would want to represent.

In one exercise, Kellie McElhaney, a professor at the Haas School of Business, asks students to select an athlete, artist, entertainer or leader whom they admire. Students analyze that person’s brand strategies and write a paper on the impact the individual has on others.

Athletes, especially, are facing “a circling swarm of agents,” Dr. McElhaney says, so it’s important that students identify their own core values and critically evaluate brands before committing.

Write to Lindsay Ellis at lindsay.ellis@wsj.com

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