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Info Sci and Johnson Collaborate on Digital Tech Immersion Program

by Louis DiPietro

As business and technology continue to converge in the global marketplace, interdisciplinary employees are needed now more than ever, and a new Cornell collaboration aims to meet that demand.

Beginning this spring, Cornell’s Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Business and the Department of Information Science in Computing and Information Science (CIS) have launched the Digital Technology Immersion program, which will pair students from both schools to work collaboratively on projects for partnering companies like Verizon, Ensighten and Thomson Reuters.

The result is mutually beneficial: MBA students bolster skill sets in areas like data analytics, ubiquitous computing, and Web design and programming, while Information Science Master of Professional Studies (MPS) students are schooled in areas like leadership, project management, and entrepreneurship for scientists and engineers.

Johnson Dean Soumitra Dutta told the program’s opening class on Feb. 2 that “this is an example of the kind of class we need to have more of at Cornell: a course offering that crosses boundaries and interacts with industries.”

“This is so exciting,” added CIS Dean Greg Morrisett. “You guys are the future of what is most exciting about new programs at Cornell.”

The excitement is justified, said Gilly Leshed, senior lecturer and director of the MPS program, who serves as co-instructor on the project-based portion of the immersion sequence along with Shawn Mankad, assistant professor of operations, technology and information management.

“Companies are looking for both MBAs with digital technology expertise and for MPS students who are thinking a little more broadly beyond the technology design, programming and data science they can do,” she said.

For information science master’s students, Leshed added, they “want to know more beyond the boundaries of their cubical, to better understand how their technology work fits into a bigger business context. Plus, they get the opportunity to work with people in other disciplines.”

Thirty students are enrolled in the sequence’s opening semester, Leshed said, with about a 50/50 split between MBA and information science master’s students. “It’s a very diverse body of students, both in ethnicity and gender,” she said.

The program’s structure gives MBA and information science MPS students the flexibility to craft their in-class education. Along with required courses on subjects like data analytics and managing operations, MBA students can choose from nine tech-related course offerings, while MPS students can choose from seven business courses. Guest experts offer students pointers on skills like presentation, team conflict resolution and project management.

But the sequence’s linchpin is its practicum, where students team up to solve real-world problems for seven partnering companies. An advisory panel of industry leaders from technology, business and startups will assist students in the practicum.

“The projects have an Info-Sci angle involving prototyping, mobile and Web apps, analyzing social media data or understanding user experience,” Leshed said, “but the groups also have to come up with solutions that offer value to the business.”

Genentech and Workday are two other partnering companies for this semester’s immersion program.

With Cornell’s latest education collaboration, Leshed said students will learn skills that last.

“Students will enhance skill sets not just for their first jobs,” she said, “but for their careers.”