University president talks, teaches tech

Building curriculum on the basics of information technology (IT) has helped one university president design courses that go beyond the surface teachings of computer certification to address skills that will last a lifetime.

Richard Shurtz, president of Stratford University in Virginia, doesn’t limit his message to the lecture hall. He takes it to the airwaves in a weekly radio show.

Shurtz is the host of Tech Talk Radio, which starts at 9 a.m. Saturdays on 1500 AM in the Washington, D.C., area. The show has aired weekly since 2000, when Shurtz was a guest on several radio programs and was invited to host his own.

Shurtz, a Virginia resident and Stratford president for more than 20 years, chats with experts on everything from consumer electronics to technology training to politics and public policy during the hour-long broadcast.

"I run the show like a classroom on the airwaves," said Shurtz, 62, who has helped develop 250 undergraduate and 79 graduate programs at Stratford, many focusing on in-depth computer training. "Each show, I try to teach something new to my listeners. … It’s become a second career for me, and it’s something that I really enjoy."

Shurtz’s Tech Talk conversations are wide ranging–recently hosting experts on physics and space–but he has frequently addressed shortfalls in higher education’s computer curriculum. Computer certification courses that gained popularity in the 1990s concerned Shurtz, who said the training would not prepare students for the constantly changing IT field.

"The thing with certification is that the knowledge is only good until the next upgrade," he said. "I want to make sure they truly know what’s going on. I want [students] to have the kind of insight that lasts a lifetime."

Stratford’s adjustments have paid dividends. The university boasts a 70-percent program completion rate, and it expects enrollment to rise from 2,000 this year to around 3,000 in 2010, because Stratford, like many other colleges and universities, is bracing for an influx of students hoping to bolster their resumes in a down economy.

Shurtz’s lifelong work in the technology field has hastened the evolution of Stratford’s computer courses and programs. After earning his Ph.D. in physics from the Catholic University of America in 1968, Shurtz helped developed a variety of cutting-edge equipment, including night-vision goggles used during the Vietnam War, fiber optics, and early versions of conductor lasers.

Stratford’s comprehensive technology programs–which delved into the basics of programming languages and included lessons that would help students adjust to evolving programming codes–caught on until the dot-com crash of the late 1990s. Students who once flocked to IT courses were suddenly ignoring the curriculum, Shurtz said, so Stratford suspended many programming classes.

Seeing a need for IT administrators with business acumen, Shurtz launched undergraduate and graduate-level programs that merged business management with technology training.

"We responded to the marketplace and the job market," he said. "Businesses no longer want to have a pure technologist who can’t manage themselves out of a paper bag. They want someone who can hire and train and make a budget and achieve business objectives."

The business-IT classes proved popular at the university, which recently opened a campus in Woodbridge, Va., and Shurtz has overseen a new generation of business-savvy IT experts who are in demand in today’s job market.

"The combination of business and technology was a powerful combination," he said. "Businesses don’t care what kind of technology you use, they just want it to work for their needs."


Stratford University

Tech Talk Radio

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