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University of Phoenix academic leadership presenting at 1EdTech Digital Credentials Summit

By Michele Mitchum

Mary Elizabeth Smith, Chelse Thomas and Kathryn Uhles leading session on the value of pilot programs in building a digital credential strategy 

University of Phoenix announces that Kathryn Uhles, dean, College of Business and Information Technology, Mary Elizabeth Smith, director, Learning Innovation Strategy, and Chelse Thomas, senior manager of Provost Initiatives and Academic Program Lifecycle, are leading a session on the University’s work establishing a pilot program tied to digital credentials at the 1EdTech Digital Credentials Summit held March 4-6, 2024, in New Orleans, Louisiana.

1EdTech's Digital Credentials Summit invites education, workforce and business leaders and innovators working to transform education and work with verifiable credentials to attend and become part of a transformative new focus on developing skills and connecting talent to opportunities.

Uhles, Smith and Thomas will lead the session, “Laying the Foundation – The Value of Piloting and Learner Voice” on March 5, at 1:50 pm CT. The session will focus on the crucial first steps of driving a digital credential strategy with a deep look at the valuing of piloting digital credentials, including monitoring acceptance and share rates, and reacting to the voice of the student through surveys and interviews.

“Navigating the implementation of a digital credential strategy is exciting, and we learned it is valuable and important work to ensure we are accurately communicating to students the value of the badge, planning for capacity, and focusing on the right digital credential strategies,” states Uhles. “University of Phoenix’s approach to digital credentials and our ability to issue more than 450,000 digital badges since 2021 have both been informed by our pilot program and the lessons learned along the way. My colleagues and I are excited to join the discussion on digital credentials at the 1EdTEch summit and look forward to sharing insights and best practices.”

University of Phoenix’s work in the field of digital badging is tied to the understanding that employers are increasingly shifting to a skills-based focus to better support hiring and retention strategies, a change that is supporting opportunities in diversity of talent, career mobility, performance and ease of hiring. University of Phoenix offers an innovative skills-mapped curriculum, focused on the working adult learner, has culminated in 100 percent of associate, bachelor and master’s degree programs open for new enrollment now being fully skills-mapped. 

University of Phoenix works with Credly to issue its digital badges and has issued over 450,000 digital badges since September 2021, for skills obtained in undergraduate, graduate, and professional development courses. The University’s transition to a skills-mapped curriculum helps ensure that students are identifying and acquiring skills in weeks, rather than years, yielding value from their education as they progress through courses rather than just at the point of graduation. In turn, this now informs the development of tools and products, which is growing a system of lifelong career support for students and alumni.  

Smith, who recently co-authored a white paper on the evolution of skills-mapping at University of Phoenix, says the opportunity to share best practices in the field is critical. “At a moment when employers are seeking practical ways to quantify skills from university graduates, and employees are seeking ways to commodify and mobilize those skills, our research has been focused on the potential for digital badging to shape curriculum in higher education,” shares Smith.

Since 2006, Kathryn Uhles has served University of Phoenix in Student Services, Operations, Curriculum and most recently as faculty and Dean of the College of Business and Information Technology (CBIT). In her role as Dean, Uhles has overall accountability for CBIT curriculum and all other academic components including faculty approval and oversight, student satisfaction and retention, academic policy and standards, and program evaluation.

Prior to becoming the Dean, Uhles oversaw the IT programs at University of Phoenix as an Associate Dean, creating and developing 13 new IT degree and certificate programs in IT. In addition, she strengthened relationships with industry certification bodies, CompTIA and EC Council, to expand course and exam offerings for University of Phoenix students. The university was awarded an EC Council Circle of Excellence award each year during her tenure in the role. 

Smith has been involved in educational innovation for over thirty years. Currently the Director of Learning Innovation Strategy in the Center for Teaching and Learning at the University of Phoenix, she previously served as the Research and Implementation Strategist and the Director of Curriculum Development. Smith began her career working with K-12 pre-service teachers to integrate technology into lesson plans and produce hyper-card stacks. Her affinity for educational technology places her in the category of an ‘early adopter’ and she was one of the first faculty at a previous institution to convert an on-campus Computer Science course for online delivery in 1999. 

Smith’s career in education includes working in curriculum development, learning design, faculty development, faculty, and e-learning roles for four universities and several community colleges as well as two educational software companies. Smith holds a bachelor’s in Speech Communication and Journalism from Southern Illinois University and an M.Ed. in Educational Media and Computers from Arizona State University.

Thomas has been with University of Phoenix for 15 years and currently serves as the Senior Manager of Provost Initiatives and Academic Program Lifecycle. In this role, Thomas leads the definition, implementation, and management of the university's academic program lifecycle process. Thomas provides support in strategic projects and initiatives, offering thought leadership on the provost’s strategy, and assisting academic colleges in making informed decisions and plans regarding academic program offerings to mitigate institutional risk.

Thomas is a devoted advocate for the importance of lifelong learning and continuous development. This passion is reflected in her director roles with Phoenix Women Rising, Employee Engagement Resource team, where Thomas actively promotes leadership opportunities and fosters professional growth among colleagues. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Apparel and Textile Studies from North Dakota State University, a Master of Arts in Education, Adult Education and Training, and Project Management Certificate, from University of Phoenix. 

1EdTech is a worldwide member-based non-profit community partnership of educational providers, state/national departments of education, and edtech suppliers. The 1EdTech community provides collaborative leadership that shapes the foundation of an open edtech ecosystem now and into the future to enable unlimited potential in every learner.

For more information about the 1EdTech Digital Credentials Summit, visit the registration website

About University of Phoenix

University of Phoenix innovates to help working adults enhance their careers and develop skills in a rapidly changing world. Flexible schedules, relevant courses, interactive learning, skills-mapped curriculum for our bachelor’s and master’s degree programs and a Career Services for Life® commitment help students more effectively pursue career and personal aspirations while balancing their busy lives. For more information, visit