Whether you're a recent high school grad getting ready for college, or a returning adult student preparing for a career switch, there are two key factors to keep in mind when choosing a field of study.
First are your personal interests. But a strong second should be a recognition of what's happening in the job market.
"In terms of megatrends, what kinds of things can you bank on?" is the question that Mike Rogich, chairman of the Business and Information Technologies division at Villa Julie College, suggests college students ask themselves.
If that question stumps you, he offers this suggestion:
"If you're going to bet on something, it's that people will be getting older and technology will keep evolving," Mr. Rogich said.
Translation: The fields of health and computers are hot.
Which explains the success of two curricula at Villa Julie, a
four-year, non-denominational liberal arts college on Green Spring Valley Road in Stevenson: the Bio Medical Laboratory technician and the Computer Information Systems programs.
And although the fields of health and computers differ considerably, they share one thing in common: Graduates of both programs are in demand -- and will be for decades to come.
Administrators at Villa Julie say both departments boast an impressive record of placing graduates in jobs. "Every graduate of the Computer Information Systems program last May got a job," says Dean Cook, an associate professor in the department, which offers four-year programs leading to a bachelor's degree.
The same goes for medical laboratory technicians, who perform lab tests in hospitals, private laboratories and biotechnology firms, just to name a few potential employers of "lab techs."
"There's a critical shortage of lab professionals across the country," said Vivi-Anne Griffey, program director of Villa Julie's Medical Laboratory Technician program -- the only one in the Baltimore area affiliated with Johns Hopkins Hospital. "Predictions call for an estimated 57,000 new jobs for medical technicians in 2000."
The high-tech medical and computer programs share another attribute: They are academically tough.
"The lab tech program is a difficult one," says Joseph Brusini, chairman of Villa Julie's Science Division, of the two-year program leading to an associate's degree. "It requires students to spend extra hours in the lab and to have the ability to do the kind of thinking that's technological."
Yet students who don't think of themselves as strong in the sciences shouldn't count themselves out, Mr. Brusini says. "If the interest is there, you should consider it. Many students who choose a lab tech career are conscientious, altruistic people."
Because advances in computer technology occur so fast, administrators say that students in Villa Julie's computer information programs are always challenged.
"Students are constantly forced to keep up with the changes," Mr. Rogich said. "They need the solid liberal arts background that Villa Julie provides so they can cope. They need the ability to think and relate to other humans to succeed in this field."
It's not only computer hardware that's changing. The role played by the computer in business has evolved, Mr. Rogich said, from simple record-keeping tasks into an information tool for management. For example, computers are now used to track trends, which can help business managers predict their customer's needs and provide a critical edge in today's competitive markets.
Students are also learning about another new facet of computer technology: "expert systems," computer programs that address shortages of expert personnel in fields such as medicine.
"Computers are now replacing human experts in expert systems, which encode a person's knowledge into 'if-then' rules," Mr. Rogich explained. "For example, someone can enter a hospital patient's symptoms into a computer to get a health-care diagnosis."
Powerful networks of personal computers are another growing trend that today's computer student must understand. "Businesses are transferring more and more information from mainframe computers to PC networks," Mr. Cook said. "So we've begun emphasizing networks in our curriculum."
For more information on courses at Villa Julie, call (410) 486-7000.
Shirley Jean Simmons, a Villa Julie College student in the liberal, arts and technology program, has been selected as one of 100 students from 25 countries to attend the Student Pugwash USA's Seventh Biennial International Conference to be held at Emory University in Atlanta June 14-20.
FTC Sixty experts from industry, government and academia will meet with the students for a week of discussion on pressing global issues. The conference is entitled "Visions for a Sustainable World: A Conference on Science, Technology and Social Responsibility."
Ms. Simmons, a third-year student at Villa Julie, was chosen by officials of the conference on the basis of a proposal she submitted for a paper she will write on technology and the environment. The paper will be read at the conference and later published.