IBM, VCU, Reynolds Metals Team to Give Students Real-World Experience

Joanna Doyle

Through a partnership with IBM and Reynolds Metals Company, Virginia Commonwealth University is giving graduate students a unique advantage over their peers entering the IT workplace.

VCU’s Enterprise-Wide Information Systems Center of Excellence program, established with assistance from Reynolds Metals and IBM’s Partners in Education program, teaches students practical IT skills by helping regional businesses solve real-world business problems. (For more on VCU’s cooperative program, see Chris Gloede’s “Real-World Training for Real-World Problems” column that appeared in MIDRANGE Systems September 30,1999 issue.) The program couples innovative coursework with hands-on experience in a laboratory designed to mirror enterprise operations on a donated IBM AS/400e server. According to Richard Redmond, director of technology for the department of information systems at VCU, the alliance with local businesses has resulted in clear benefits for students.

“Our classroom has expanded,” Redmond said. “We have a curriculum that is no longer limited to classroom academics or thinking. It harnesses much more of a community’s IT resources to educate and train future IT professional and managers.”

Response to the program, now wrapping up its first semester, has been “explosive” according to Redmond, with enrollment in the information systems major at more than twice what it has been in previous years at VCU. The university and its business partners say they believe the opportunity to supplement classroom learning through practical experience on high-end AS/400 technology has attracted many more students to the major.

The Center of Excellence aims to give students the confidence to enter the work force with not only their information systems MS, MBA or Ph.D., but also with technical expertise that can only be gained through hands on experience. And with as many as 1.4 million new skilled workers expected to be in demand by 2006 (U.S. Commerce Department study), such experienced professionals are being sought in rapidly increasing numbers.

“We want to hire IT professionals that have an understanding of the systems we use, to support our plant operation,” said John Rudin, Reynolds Metals Company VP and CIO. “The Center of Excellence enables students to understand our needs and provide solutions that reduce complexity while optimizing investments and minimizing operation costs.”