The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

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June 12, 2012

Companies taking greater role on campuses in producing skilled students

(Continued)

He says he sometimes wishes his classes took time to focus on the theoretical underpinnings of engineering. Still, "it makes sense for universities to prepare their students the best way they can for the work force," he said, adding that he knows of graduates from other schools who aren't getting offers.

The number of U.S. job openings rose to 3.7 million in March, the most since July 2008, even with 13 million people out of work, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data — a sign that some of the unemployed may not have skills that fit employers' needs.

Georgia Tech helped start the trend toward more corporate input into curricula in 2002, when the university hired Richard DeMillo, Hewlett-Packard's chief technology officer, as its dean of the College of Computing. He reorganized the curriculum between 2002 and 2005 to produce students better fit for industry.

The previous course load generated graduates who were less suited to jobs in entertainment, health care and computer security, he said. The new program allows students to choose "threads" that allow them to mix computing with literature or animation so they might be attractive to movie or gaming companies such as Walt Disney and Electronic Arts.

"It was really a conversation with lots of Georgia Tech stakeholders, though mainly firms, about what would you like to see," said DeMillo, now a distinguished professor of computing at the university. Microsoft, Intel Corp., Hewlett-Packard and International Business Machines Corp. executives all offered advice. "I really deconstructed conversations I had had with fellow CTOs over the previous three or four years about what was going on in academia and what would be helpful."

Jennifer Tour Chayes, managing director of Microsoft's computer-science and software-engineering research facilities in Cambridge, Mass., said "the attitude has really changed" as universities become more receptive to corporate input. She has urged colleges to provide students with both technical skills in computer science or mathematics plus expertise in an unrelated field, such as sociology, economics or biology.

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