Angel Norman

Angel Norman introduced a new opportunity to her students: the chance to earn Microsoft’s specialist certification in Excel.

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Six years into teaching a course on business software applications, Haslam College of Business professor Angel Norman introduced a new opportunity to her students: the chance to earn Microsoft’s specialist certification in Excel.

While the course already focused on Excel, it now fully prepares students to take both the specialist and expert certification exams created by Microsoft. “The class isn’t taught to the test, but students have enough knowledge and skill coming out of what we’ve covered to easily pass the specialist exam,” Norman says. In fall 2016, the first time the college offered students the chance to take the certification exam on campus, the overall pass rate was an impressive 83.8 percent. “Out of 370 students who took the exam, 310 passed with 70 percent or higher, and we actually had five students who made perfect scores.”

Anna Frye, a senior majoring in business analytics and marketing, took Norman’s class and earned her expert certification in Excel. “I thought the course was really helpful and practical,” Frye says. “I used Excel a lot in my internship, and I know most businesses want you to have those skills. I think earning the badge helps you stand out, and it’s great to get it just from taking a class that all business students are required to take.”

Attaining the ability to offer the exam, however, took some behind-the-scenes work. Students cannot take the test on their own personal laptops because the computers must be certified and have special software on them, so Haslam needed to purchase ninety new computers. Norman teamed up with several other faculty members, administrators, and IT specialists to prepare two classrooms according to Micro-soft specifications for administering the exams.

Norman’s students immediately responded with interest in earning the certification. “It’s a professional credential that they can actually put on their resumes, and I think because of that tangible goal, I saw student engagement go way up in the class,” she says. “They come with great questions and I really enjoy teaching them.”

Norman sees many positive outcomes for students who earn the certification. “They’re given electronic badges that they can post on LinkedIn or other professional social media sites,” she says. “It’s a widely recognized certification, and a lot of industries like seeing it. Ultimately, it makes students more marketable to recruiters because spreadsheet skills are highly valued.”

Lane Morris, associate dean of undergraduate programs and student affairs, agrees.

“Recruiters are always looking for the small difference, and this is another way for students to stand out,” he says. “Third-party certifications also help them demonstrate that they are high performers after they enter the marketplace.”