The University of Cincinnati Takes a Hands-On Approach to Information Technology
The University of Cincinnati's head for the School of Information Technology provides students with informative and exciting ways to become educated in the world of technology.
I have been with the University of Cincinnati since 2001 and in my current position as head of school of IT since 2012.
1.Give me a brief description of what you do.
Hazem Said: The University of Cincinnati has two main branches of IT. There is the operation branch where we have several hundred members of that IT specific team. That operation team also includes finance, advising, marketing and so on. In that regard, the university is like any other enterprise. It has its operation team. Then there is the academic side of the house. On the academic side, there are the faculty who teach the students. I am on the faculty side, not the operation side. Nelson Vincent is the Chief Information Officer so he is on the operation side and they have several hundred members on their team. That is your typical IT. I am not your typical IT. As a faculty member, I am at the same time the head of the School of Information Technology.
The School of Information Technology is an academic department that offers a baccalaureate degree and a masters degree in information technology and hopefully soon, a doctorate degree. We have about 600 students in both programs. We have both traditional students as well as professionals, who either are changing careers or coming back to get a baccalaureate or masters degree. We have 14 faculty members. We also have about 30 professionals who teach for us. Because information technology is a hands-on discipline, the connectedness between the students and the professionals in the industry is very critical. Otherwise, the student will miss out on what is happening and there will be a huge gap between that classroom and the industry. We are trying to close that gap by hiring professionals to teach the classes, as well as co-ops. Our students are hired by companies while they are in the classroom to do co-op opportunities. I am the head of that school. I wear multiple hats. I am a faculty member, I teach, I am the head of the school, and at the same time I created something called the Information Technology Solution Center.
The Information Technology Solution Center is a research and development center that develops IT solutions. It was established in March 2012. We have worked with non-profits, startups, private companies, public companies and government agencies. We develop software applications and software testing and also do software support. It is like a teaching consulting company. When you think of the concept of a teaching hospital, you go there and you are treated by faculty and students. So we are a teaching IT company, where you come and the solutions are developed by faculty and students. I hire the students as co-ops and as part-time and contract through the university with clients outside or inside the university. Currently we have multiple clients. Actually, our team just released a software application to the Ohio Department of Youth Services. We work with large, retail and public companies. We work with startup companies. We work with research centers in the university. We basically became the IT partner and we found a niche area, which are projects that are important enough but not critical. There is not enough budget to go out and hire a professional IT company but there is enough budget to get somebody to play with the idea. So for new ideas that need to be prototyped, it could be a project that went out of budget but has to be completed, it could be things that, for one reason or another, there is not enough budget to support taking it to a professional company but they need to get it done. That is our area. We are learning, so we have a long learning curve, so the project should not be urgent. It needs to be important but cannot be urgent because, well, they are students.
In the IT Solutions Center I manage one full time staff, three undergraduate students and about 800 graduate students.
TC: If a company is interested in this type of thing, how would a company get involved in the solutions center?
Hazem Said: They would simply contact me. We contract through the university, though a simple contract. I am an authorized signature. It is a very easy process if the contract is the same. Basically our contract stimulates the traditional clauses and typical legal language, but we say that whoever contracts with us owns what we develop. But we retain the right to use it, not in a competitive manner, but we own the right to right to use our software. If that is acceptable, usually I sign, that is it. No further engagement with the university is necessary. Our process has been that we meet with the person to learn more. Depending on how complex the situation is, this can sometimes be a couple of meetings. Then once we feel understood about what is needed, we provide a statement and a proposal, and then we negotiate that proposal. We do a fixed price contract. Because of our learning curve, it is really difficult to separate the learning from the actual development, so we found that fixed price works well. If we do an estimate correctly, hopefully we don’t lose money. If we fail, then we take the hit. So even though we price everything and we negotiate the fixed price and we say, “Okay that is fixed, it is done.” There is no overtime, over-budget situation.
The main idea is like learning on the job. It is a real life situation for the students, and the faculty, too, because IT is changing significantly. The faculty can also get out of touch. The students have done well. IT has allowed us to do this because IT is a unique field that the cost of entry is very low. It is always changing, so the possibility of being an expert is wide open.
2. What are some of the technological victories you have experienced?
Hazem Said: June 30 was a big release party in Columbus. It was very well received. That was a big victory.
3. What are some of the challenges?
Hazem Said: IT is still an infant in the academic industry. IT actually stared in early 2000’s. It has been a challenge to build awareness of the program and understand the opportunities that it offers versus traditional opportunities in a computer science program and finding the profile of a student that fits that program.
IT compares to music more than to engineering. The most important skills are the hands-on skills, like with music. Music education has reached out to all ages, beginning as young as 5 year-olds. That parallel form that a challenge is starting to build that pipeline that IT is for students who are active learners, not necessarily the top GPA. (I’m not sure how to edit this sentence, as I’m not sure what it’s trying to say)
We have been working for two years to teach the first year of IT in the HS and automatically accept the student for the program at U.C.
This program is being very well received by HS administrators. In September we will be announcing a partnership with CPS working with superintendents there. Within the next few months we will be making similar announcements with Lebanon, Kings, Mason and maybe Butler Tech.