ODU Seeks Partners for Work Force Program
ODU Seeks Partners for Work Force Program
By Steve LeSueur, Staff Writer
Old Dominion University is seeking partnerships with high-tech businesses in Northern Virginia as a way to expand its Information Technology Program and help solve the area's desperate need for skilled IT workers, university leaders said.
Begun in July, the program has 180 students, most coming from the Norfolk area, where the university is located. But school officials eventually hope to fill the program with 350 students, and thus are looking to increase their visibility in Northern Virginia, where the university has several campuses.
One problem facing the university, however, is that it's not a household name to many people in Northern Virginia.
"They don't know who Old Dominion University is until I remind them that we're the ones with the top-ranked women's basketball team," said John Gawne, executive director of the IT Program.
The university already is discussing partnership arrangements with several businesses, Gawne said. Under such arrangements, a company might provide scholarships to students who, in turn, would commit to internships with the company. Or a company might provide direction for the program's curriculum or help students find jobs after they complete their training.
The university's one-year IT program costs about $4,000 to $6,000, and is designed for people who already have jobs. Classes are held two nights a week and on alternate Saturdays, and each course is taught in four and one-half week modules.
Students can earn ODU certificates and academic credit as systems engineers, network engineers, network administrators, webmasters and programmer-analysts. Equally important, the courses prepare the students for Microsoft and Novell certification.
Gawne also wants to partner with community colleges that could offer the IT courses to their students. Both the businesses and the colleges would benefit from the partnership, but first Gawne must persuade them that this is a reputable program.
"We're not in the pilot stage," he said. "We've got the program going here at ODU, and now we're ready to export it to Northern Virginia."
The catalyst for the program was a spring 1997 speech by Harris Miller, president of the Information Technology Association of America. Citing a recent study by his Arlington, Va., organization, Miller scolded a gathering of Virginia university and college presidents, saying the state's schools weren't turning out students sufficiently skilled in information technology.
"He said, 'You people aren't doing nearly enough to help solve the shortage of IT workers,' " recalls ODU President James Koch, who was present at the meeting. "And he said most of our solutions to this problem were too slow and aimed largely at the long run."
Miller's recollection of the meeting is largely the same: "I presented a very bleak picture of the economic well-being of Virginia if this problem persisted."
After listening to the speech, Koch decided his university's unique programs for retraining displaced government workers could be adapted to training IT workers, and little more than a year later, ODU launched the Information Technology Program.
Gawne said most of the program's students are working adults, many of whom are looking to change careers.
"The average salary for an IT worker in Virginia is $57,000," he said, more than double the $23,000 to $24,000 earned by the average worker in the state.
He also said nearly 50 percent of the students in his program are women and minorities.
"We didn't do anything specifically to attract women and minorities, but they can read, and they know where the money is."
Cheryl Warne, an administrator in a small Virginia Beach doctor's office for the past five years, enrolled in the program because she enjoys working with computers and wanted a job that was more interesting and challenging. Although she expects eventually to reap a salary increase as a result of the career change, she said, "I would have taken a salary decrease to do something I like."
Warne, 36, says she is having fun despite her lack of experience and training. She already has passed two of the Microsoft certification exams, and plans to take more exams and complete the full-year program.
One of the program's strongest selling points is its ability to prepare students for Microsoft and Novell exams. Gawne said two-thirds of his students have taken one or more of these exams, and their passing rate is 90 percent, compared to about 40 to 50 percent in industry training centers.
Gawne attributes this success to the flexible scheduling of classes and to the quality of students.
"These people are very motivated," he said. "They don't miss classes, and they are demanding of the instructors. They want to be taught the latest skills and technology."
Miller has high praise for the program. "President Koch responded to the challenge, and has been very aggressive in working with businesses to develop programs that will be of use to the IT community," he said. "Although they don't have the visibility that [George Mason University] and other universities have in Northern Virginia, they've got a great opportunity to come up and network and take advantage of the high tech community here."