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Faculty showcase iSchool at global IBM conference

June 04, 2012

Diane Stirling
(315) 443-8975

The student educational experience and the breadth of academics related to large-system computing at the School of Information Studies (iSchool) will be showcased for some 4,000 information industry executives and top customers at IBM Software's Innovate 2012 Conference from June 3-7.

iSchool Assistant Professors of Practice David and Susan Dischiave will take part in executive panel discussions; David Dischiave has several presentations and media interviews; and iSchool faculty and students are featured in the conference’s keynote video.

The IBM-commissioned film shows how the iSchool and 20 other leading colleges worldwide are advancing enterprise computing, and how educators are incorporating IBM’s System z technology into courses to prepare the 21st-century workforce. The choice to highlight the iSchool among the hundreds of colleges and universities involved in the IBM Academic Initiative was an easy one, says Don Resnik, IBM’s Worldwide System z Academic Initiatives and Client Skills leader.

“Frankly, at the top of that list and among the top schools is Syracuse University’s iSchool. We see the work that David and Susan have done as a model for other schools to follow.” Resnik notes how IBM’s original 1964 computing mainframe has continued to evolve, even as many academics believed it would become outmoded. “It’s taken Dave [Dischiave] and other schools and professors a while to educate their peers as to the importance of the system, and why corporations worldwide depend on this,” Resnik adds. System z users include some of the largest technology users in the world—a number of Fortune 500 companies, the world’s 10 largest banks and the U.S. government and its defense and FBI sectors, Resnik says.

Another reason to highlight the iSchool is because “Dave [Dischiave] is actually administering that system as a professor, which is really unheard of in academia. Typically, professors rely on IT technologists to run the system. Dave just kept [at it] until he … could give his students access to the mainframe system, virtualize the hardware, allow them to do lab exercises and incorporate that into the courses,” Resnik says.

David Dischiave has several media interviews and presentations scheduled on the topics "Building Next-Generation Enterprise Skills" and “Reaching the 21st Century Student," and a panel on “Multiplatform Application Development.” He and Susan plan to promote how the iSchool is readying students for large and complex computing environments through the new systems and information science academic major, the information management master’s programs and the certificate of advanced studies in data science, and to network with potential student employers.

Inclusion in such a pinnacle forum illustrates synergies that have developed between the school and IBM over the last several years. In 2006, when the Dischiaves recognized a gap in the curriculum relating to students’ understanding of big, industry-sized problems, they brought the issue to IBM’s attention, David Dischiave says. The company responded quickly and with significant resources. IBM’s Academic Initiative has since provided access to IBM’s mainframe network; the offer of services; “almost unbridled” access to experts; and free software and computing platforms “well beyond what we have at the University,” Dave Dischiave notes. IBM’s decision to involve the iSchool, Resnik says, was based on the acumen and responsiveness observed: “the work done to implement the Global EnterpriseTechnology program, including changing the curriculum so that IBM’s customers will hire SU students.”

The collaboration with IBM has been extremely important, resulting in benefits for students that might otherwise have been beyond the University’s reach, Dischiave says, adding that more than $27 million in value has been contributed by IBM over the last five years.

“We were able to create a lab environment that allows students to do some really big things. It’s a win-win; they’re [IBM] doing a great deal for us. At the same time, we’re preparing the 21st-century workforce. Students understand problems and problem-solving in a very different way that they never would have if not for this program,” Dischiave adds.

The Dischiaves also plan to advise conference attendees about a workforce disconnect. While employers regard today’s students as very knowledgeable about computer systems, students entering college after 2003 are actually much more attuned to mobile technology, David Dischiave explains.

“Students up to 2003 actually understood more about technology than those who have come after that. There’s almost a line of demarcation. Prior students came in with a much more fundamental understanding of computer systems—how to get a computer to do things, how to build things a computer can understand—they were not just a user of technology,” Dischiave says.

To remedy that situation, the iSchool collaborated with IBM to develop the “Enterprise Technologies” course. The school also has expanded the global enterprise technologies concentration into an academic minor, and has enhanced the student experience with guest speakers, the Asia Series and shadowing, Dischiave says.

The iSchool is “preparing the 21st-century workforce, preparing students so that they can function in big organizations, like a mega-company with a global footprint that may have operations in hundreds of countries,” David Dischiave explains. “It’s neat that our students could walk into a company like that and be ready to go.”

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