IBM i Squeezes Into Arkansas Tech Curriculum
September 30, 2013 Dan Burger
For many schools in the IBM Academic Initiative program the amount of IBM i-specific training is minimal. There are two-year technical colleges and four-year programs with multiple IBM i courses in programming, administration, and networking, but it’s not unusual to find a single course that introduces the IBM i platform along with other enterprise business computing systems.
“We have a lot of students who have gotten jobs because of this one course,” says Sarah Robison, an instructor at Arkansas Tech University. “It’s an advantage over other schools that don’t have anything like it. Businesses are having problems finding graduates who understand business computing.”
Only students in the Information Systems track are required to take the course, which is titled Administering and Using the IBM Platform. The course description is “an introduction to the operations of the IBM midrange computer system. Topics include architecture, system security, user interface, and work management. Coverage will also extend to applications and programming using an introduction to DB2 and RPG.”
At Arkansas Tech there is an advisory council made up of businesses in the area that rely on the students graduating with four-year degrees in Information Systems, Computer Science, and Information Technology. The Information Technology track also offers a two-year Associate degree and a post-graduate Master’s degree. Many of the companies on the advisory council are IBM i shops, but Robison says that emphasis is not pushed to the curriculum.
“Our conversations with advisory council members are not platform specific, but it is knowledge and skills specific,” she says. “We try to get students used to multiple platforms, languages, operating systems. This helps them in their jobs because when they get trained by the company that hires them, they have an understanding of many systems and can pick up a variety of tasks quickly. We believe that one-platform education is detrimental.”
The top-paying, entry-level employer in the state looks at the Arkansas Tech Information Systems program as its training ground, according to Robison. More than 70 graduates are employed there. “They have told us, ‘What you are turning out is perfect for us,'” Robison says. And although that company is on the advisory council, the curriculum has not been structured on company recommendations. Robison says the school works diligently with its curriculum–looking at the objectives of each class and of each program, talking with the advisory council, and discussing what’s coming in technology.
“There are two leading companies that tell us we have students they want,” she says. “The companies are totally different in what they are looking for. One wants our IS students and one wants our IT students.”
Robison is currently working with Darlene Rose, the IBM Academic Initiative project coordinator, on the idea of having a meeting between IBM i shops in the area and the faculty so the IBM i shops can explain what their needs are.
“It’s hard to find out what businesses in our region have IBM i,” Robison says. “I can’t get a list of the companies that have the systems, but I can draft a letter and have IBM send it out to the shops they can identify.”