Academic Initiative Attempts to Unite Business and Education
November 20, 2006 Dan Burger
Before you make the uninformed assumption that IBM Academic Initiative for System i has no bearing on you, your job, or the company you work for, consider for more than one minute what you can build out of a working relationship with a local technical school, community college, or four-year university. This is an opportunity to become involved in the educational process as it pertains to your profession and personally inject some real world experience that not only benefits students but you and your company as well.
I think we can all agree that classrooms and learning from a book will only take a student so far. Experience is a great teacher. Bringing your experience to the classroom is a big part of the Academic Initiative (AI). And getting students out into the workplace as part of their educational package is the result of building bridges between schools and business.
The Academic Initiative is a bridge builder. Engineering this process is the program manager, Linda Grigoleit, who works for System i worldwide marketing within the Systems and Technology Group. She’s based out of Rochester and has a global team of 18 Academic Initiative regional leaders. I caught up with her in Las Vegas during the System i Technical Conference three weeks ago.
“We are building ‘academic networks’ within business communities so we will have universities tied in with clients and business partners,” Grigoleit says. “There needs to be a tight link. We are asking clients and business partners to provide student projects, internships, and consider qualified graduates for job openings.”
When schools hear from the business community that there will be jobs for graduates, collaborative projects have a foundation. Administrators are eager to hear about good-paying jobs and careers. “Colleges are more willing to work with us if they know there are jobs and they are more willing to put the appropriate courses into place.”
Many schools have academic advisors that come from the business community. Grigoleit noted that the University of Nevada at Las Vegas is an example of a school with numerous business people on advisory boards. UNLV has a top-rated department for the study of hotels and the hospitality industry, which includes gaming. The gaming industry is heavily invested in the System i and Grigoleit is working with administrators there to expand curriculum featuring the System i. She is drawing on the local System i customers to become involved.
One area of involvement is the use of guest lecturers from the business world. Access to industry experts and technical experts are a valuable asset to colleges and their students. Of course, professionals with System i experience have a point of reference that has been almost completely overlooked during academic discussions about how IT works for business. Grigoleit says many of the schools she has talked with are open to new ideas and are looking for feedback from the business community on curriculum ideas that they have in place or are considering.
Student projects, originated by businesses to solve real problems, are a valuable asset to the students as well as the organizations that get involved. And internships are also seen as valuable for both the student and the company providing the opportunity. The Sports Authority and Harrah’s are two companies that have put together meaningful projects and internships. The processes are in place, Grigoleit says, to assemble off-site teams, even with multiple schools, to handle certain projects. “We could do virtual teams,” she says. “This enhances education and it gets jobs done that are meaningful and have value to the companies that are organizing the projects. We are asking companies to come up with meaty projects that really benefit them. That’s where the benefits come in for everybody.”
For colleges and universities that need access to a System i (seems likely if they are going to have curriculum featuring the System i), the Academic Initiative offers the System i Center, which is located in Seattle, Washington. It exists so that instructors who teach about the technology and application strategies have access to hardware and software without owning or administering their own systems. Schools can set up their own secure environments, based on what they are teaching, and it will look like their own system. IBM also offers educational lease and educational purchase deals for those that want their own system.
One of the obstacles that the Academic Initiative has to overcome is the diminishing enrollment trend that is affecting IT classes and schools that specialize in IT training and education. After Y2K and the dot-com collapse, student interest in information technology took a bit of a slide. More recently, the backlash from outsourcing IT jobs overseas rocked the IT education boat.
“We are challenged not only to get System i education in the colleges, but also with a decline in students overall,” Grigoleit says. Although schools are trying to revitalize programs, she says, “the perception now is that students shouldn’t go into IT.”
Metropolitan Community College (MCC) in Nebraska, a school with a System i teaching history that goes back to the System 36 days, has recovered from the hard times that came with a loss of students interested in IT careers. It’s a success story for the Academic Initiative and a case study detailing its progress is posted on the AI Web site. As part of an overall plan to revamp the program, the school took an i520 on an educational lease last summer and consolidated the majority of its IT-related curriculum–including course work in Linux, Unix, Windows, and i5/OS–on the i5. It eliminated the costs related to the purchase and administration of many servers.
MCC has a technically oriented curriculum, while other schools mix IT into business courses in what is generally referred to as a management of information sciences (MIS) program. At the University of Nebraska, modules, smaller components, of System i content are being developed that can be included in MIS courses. These modules will then become available to other colleges and universities through the Academic Initiative. “They will be free to use, sort of like open source educational modules,” Grigoleit says.
AI programs exist in 25 states, two Canadian provinces, three Latin American countries, 11 European countries, and three Asian countries. In the United States, Minnesota and Ohio have six schools with programs under way. Georgia, Michigan, North Carolina, and Texas have five. There will be an emphasis on creating new programs and expanding existing programs in geographic areas where the System i installed base is concentrated.
Connecting schools and businesses will continue to be the criteria to judge the Academic Initiative. The growth of a workforce that possesses System i skills is dependent upon it.
As a side note to the Academic Initiative, it’s worth noting that the COMMON User Group has formed the COMMON Education Foundation, which is also aimed at fostering the education and growth of System i professionals. The Foundation awards a limited number of scholarships providing free registration to Academic Initiative faculty for its U.S. conferences. For more details on the COMMON Education Foundation visit the COMMON Web site at www.common.org.