New School Of Thought

Universities are reaching a new generation with innovative programs that marry IT and other disciplines, including art, business, and biology

Elena Malykhina, Technology Journalist

February 11, 2005

4 Min Read

School of Informatics graduates come out with a blend of computer science and liberal arts, says the school's dean, Michael Dunn, who also is a computer-science professor at the university. "They're problem solvers who understand the broader context of learning and how it applies in a world beyond IT," Dunn says.

Craig Birchler, another former School of Informatics student, says he learned how to create one moment and teach the next, and now he's applying that expertise to his current job as the instructional designer for Kimball Office, a division of furniture and cabinet maker Kimball International Inc. Birchler works with subject-matter experts to create computer-based instructional modules for Kimball's sales staff.

The use of digital media is growing, and there can no longer be a separation between the technologist and the storyteller, says Donald Marinelli, co-director of Carnegie Mellon's Entertainment Technology Center. Every company, from interactive gaming to post-production houses to amusement parks, is looking for people to fill creative positions, he says.

In Carnegie Mellon's program, students work in teams for a semester on projects that find new uses for existing technology. "When you first walk in the door at [the Entertainment Technology Center], you have a feeling that cool things happen there," Dumont says. And often they do. For example, Dumont and his team worked with a hip-hop music company in New York to develop the Music Vending Machine, an interactive kiosk that people who don't have high-speed Internet access can use to legally download digital music. Consumers can burn CDs or download songs to an MP3 player from the kiosks, which were designed to be installed in various music stores in the New York area.

Student Shanna Tellerman is working with the New York City Fire Department to develop video-game technology for training first responders to incidents involving weapons of mass destruction or hazardous materials. She's a producer for the HazMat Game, an educational-simulation technology that Carnegie Mellon is building for the fire department. Tellerman's background in art brought her to the program to pursue a career in digital media, and she hopes one day to find a job in the game industry. "Opportunities for interdisciplinary teamwork in new technologies are just beginning to take off," she says.

Other universities offer such interdisciplinary programs, as well. The Harvard-MIT division of Health Sciences and Technology was established by the two schools to develop professionals who can take a multidisciplinary approach to solving complex health and medical problems. "These students are computer scientists who understand the biological process, are able to talk easily with clinical research, and are also able to ask the biological questions themselves," says Isaac Kohane, the program's professor and director of the Health Sciences and Technology Informatics Program at Children's Hospital.

Students at Stanford's Technology Ventures Program get real-world experience through summer internships. Photo courtesy of Zuma PressPhoto courtesy of Zuma Press

Another example is Stanford University's Technology Ventures Program, which focuses on high-technology entrepreneurship education. Throughout the nine-month fellowship, students get to work with 20 or more entrepreneurs and venture capitalists in class. They also pair up with mentors from companies where they'll work over the summer. This helps students better understand the company's business objectives and allows them to develop an early relationship with potential employers.

"Having the classroom and real-world experience with business and management, in addition to the technical side of the computer-science degree, means that there are a lot more options [for] jobs," says student Steve Garrity, who spent the summer working as product manager for software security startup Fortify Software Inc. The Stanford program is essentially an MBA crash course that covers everything from venture-capital term sheets and organizational politics to negotiation and partnerships to company culture and ethical issues. It encourages students to seek less-technical jobs in areas such as business and product development, says another student, Clara Shih.

The courses within the Stanford Technology Ventures Program are open to all Stanford students, though most are engineering students since the courses are hosted by the department of Management Science and Engineering. So technical training remains a strong focus of the program, says Tina Seelig, executive director of Stanford's program. "What's different now than in the past is the fact that the divide between technology graduates and business graduates has become blurred and now IT students can just as easily walk into management roles," Seelig says.

That opens up a host of new opportunities for anyone seeking a career in IT. Says the Anteo Group's DeLoof, "I would say to a young person going to a university today to make sure and get the technical, the business, and the communications skills, which makes for a bright future." Fortunately, now there are a number of universities making that possible.

About the Author(s)

Elena Malykhina

Technology Journalist

Elena Malykhina began her career at The Wall Street Journal, and her writing has appeared in various news media outlets, including Scientific American, Newsday, and the Associated Press. For several years, she was the online editor at Brandweek and later Adweek, where she followed the world of advertising. Having earned the nickname of "gadget girl," she is excited to be writing about technology again for InformationWeek, where she worked in the past as an associate editor covering the mobile and wireless space. She now writes about the federal government and NASA’s space missions on occasion.

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