Students add employable skills to academics through grAdvantage certificate program


Following years of commitment to education, job seekers soon realize that in order to land a job they’ll need to possess a combination of applied leadership and project management traits in addition to the technical expertise acquired through the rigors of academics and research.

“I have coached numerous bright young graduates as they made their way from backpack to briefcase. They often have impressive GPAs, numerous credentials and still have trouble launching their careers,” said Camille Primm, author and award-winning career and performance strategist at Primm and Partners, who also consults at UC San Diego Extension’s career resource center.


Hiring managers are looking for more than a degree, and Primm says the top three qualities often assessed during the interview process include:

  1. Team collaboration: ability to manage projects and work well with others

  2. Enthusiasm, motivation and level of commitment to the organization

  3. Problem solving skills

That’s exactly what UC San Diego’s grAdvantage professional development program sets out to do and so far, a competitive mix of master’s, Ph.D. and post-doctoral students have already taken advantage of its unique Leadership and Teamwork certificate program supported by Chancellor Pradeep Khosla. The certificate is presented by the Graduate Division of UC San Diego and offered through Extension as part of its many certificate and continuing education opportunities.

“I enrolled in grAdvantage as an incentive to step outside of my academic comfort zone. It was a significant time commitment, but the payoff in terms of personal and professional growth was well worth it,” said Lorenzo Ferrari, a recent graduate of the program.


Ferrari is among the UC San Diego students selected for the program who boast an impressive academic resume. Throughout the program, he was also working to earn a Ph.D. in Materials Science and Engineering which follows two master’s degrees and a Bachelor of Science in Physics from the University of Parma in Italy.

Although Ferrari has gained experience leading research groups and taken on several volunteer roles, he discovered last year that he needed to learn more “soft skills” while leading five other Ph.D. students during a start-up competition at the UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering von Liebig Entrepreneurism Center.

“I was fairly convinced I was a good team player and at least had the potential for being a good leader, but soon found out things were a little more complicated and I began to question my leadership skills,” said Ferrari.

The competition allowed Ferrari to learn that he still had much to learn with regards to managing time and expectations, as well as dealing with certain personalities.

“Including mine,” he said.

For him, grAdvantage “presents a unique and challenging opportunity to explore outside of the typical research environment and test readiness for complex work scenarios.”

As part of the three course curriculum, students take part in the capstone course, Leadership and Teamwork Practicum, which allows them to practice new leadership concepts and project management tools acquired throughout the program.

What’s unique about each project is that they are designed by students to help develop proficiencies throughout various departments on campus. Each project is one that students are passionate about because each is designed to make a positive impact at UC San Diego and benefit future students.

Under the direction of key campus players who commit to sponsoring practicum course projects, students have presented a range of topics including diversity campaigns, tobacco-free enforcement plans and medical waste management solutions among many others.

“Each project represents several hours of work and what’s been accomplished is extremely admirable for such a short amount of time. This program really gives each sponsor something really to be proud to be part of,” said Dragos Craciun, an instructor for the program.


One common theme students presented included ways students can become connected to employment opportunities, such as a database site similar to the popular dating site The twist, instead of finding a date, the student database provided a way to help campus employers seek out students with matched competencies required for the available job.

Another employment-centered project under the sponsorship of Roark Miller, Ph.D., director of the International Faculty and Scholar Office, was presented by Ferrari as the project coordinator along with seven other students from throughout the world. The team worked together to provide a solution for international students seeking long-term career opportunities in the United States.

Not only did the group help Ferrari learn how to manage such projects and work on a team but also the diversity of group participants helped further his skill to understand cultural differences and learn how to find solutions to bridge such gaps to effectively accomplish tasks.

“While many courses teach leadership and management skills from a theoretical standpoint, or take a workshop approach, grAdvantage incorporates a practicum module – its most exceptional attribute,” Ferrari said. “Interacting on a weekly basis with coworkers from diverse academic and cultural backgrounds while trying to learn what motivates them and manage communications between stakeholders to deliver results within a short timeframe were some of the many challenges our team encountered. Being able to demonstrate success through each challenge will stand out to any recruiter.”

Such encounters even help students gain more than desired work experience. Many students gained an invaluable network of professional advocates who they hope to continue to connect with beyond graduation.

The Fall 2016 leadership course will begin in September. Applications are available on the UC San Diego Extension website. The deadline to apply to the upcoming 2016-17 cohort is Wed., Sept. 7, 2016.

Blog post currently doesn't have any comments.

What's your story?

Share your accomplishments, advice, and goals for a chance to be featured.