An IT degree isn’t just for computer programmers anymore: As technology becomes increasingly important to every aspect of the business world, Virginia’s George Mason University (GMU) has developed an innovative and popular undergraduate degree program aimed at giving students information technology skills they can use to make sound business decisions.

At GMU’s Volgenau School of Information Technology and Engineering, students can earn a bachelor of science in information technology with a focus on integrating those skills in a business environment. The major blends management with technology for those who want to obtain positions such as marketing or human-resource directors.

The degree “prepares graduates to apply information technology to support business processes,” said Lloyd Griffiths, dean of the Volgenau School. Graduates leave GMU with strong problem-solving, writing, and communication skills. Students learn fundamental concepts, tools, and methods of information technology, including appropriate conceptual and computational tools essential for a successful business career.

The IT/business program first began as a minor, and 700 students immediately signed on for it–quite a large number for a minor, Griffiths said. It became so popular that school officials created an undergraduate degree program that incorporated information technology, computer science, and business. Today, as many as 900 undergraduates are enrolled in the program, and the majority of those students are employed during the day using skills they learn from their classes.

In addition to being armed with skills to communicate with technical people in the IT field, students learn how to communicate the same ideas to non-technical people. They also learn skills and strategies to facilitate group projects and activities.

A typical student schedule includes major-related classes such as how computers work, database fundamentals, network essentials, human-computer interaction, multimedia and computer graphics, and managing information.

The school’s curriculum is industry-validated and stays current with business needs, Griffiths said. Students also can take advantage of GMU’s proximity to various government agencies in nearby Washington, D.C.

Students not only learn IT skills, but also are exposed to the global impact of information technology on society and gain an understanding of the ethical and social responsibilities that accompany IT professions.

GMU’s IT/business degree program is another example of how the information technology curriculum is evolving to meet the demand for employees in all fields who have 21st-century skills. Last month, eSchool News reported on another innovative approach to teaching computer science at Georgia Tech, one that aims to make every course students enroll in–either inside or outside their major field of study–more relevant to their professional aspirations (see story: http://www.eschoolnews.com/news/showStory.cfm?ArticleID=6646).

In an interview with eSchool News, GMU President Alan said he resolved to make GMU more innovative when he became president in 1996.

All of the school’s IT graduates–both within and outside the combined IT/business major–emerge well-versed in the technical aspects of IT, but their education focuses more on the use and management of IT resources than the development of leading-edge intellectual process.

Students who do not major in IT, engineering, or computer science can earn an IT minor that will help them gain basic computer and technology literacy skills for future workplaces. Some of those skills include using word-processing programs, spreadsheets, presentation software, and the ability to understand basic programming concepts.

The university reportedly was the first in Virginia to offer an information technology minor to non-engineering students.

IT students, as well as the rest of GMU’s student population, have access to Innovation Hall, a technology-infused building that focuses on technology use across the curriculum. Opened in the fall of 2003, Innovation Hall was designed to allow for the full integration of modern technology into the curriculum. School staff, faculty, and students all have access to the hall’s state-of-the-art technology, and every classroom in the building has a custom-designed instructor console that makes it easy for faculty to teach effectively with full use of the technology. Each room also contains a laptop connection and wireless internet access.

Founded in 1972, GMU’s enrollment tops 30,500 this fall.

Links:

George Mason University
http://www.gmu.edu

Volgenau School of Information Technology and Engineering
http://ite.gmu.edu