The Information and Telecommunications Education and Research Association (ITERA) named the Center for Information & Comm. Sciences (CICS) Outstanding Program of the Year for the second time since 2007. We talked to CICS faculty members, students and partners to understand what sets the program apart.
Last month, TechPoint selected CICS as a Mira Awards 2020 nominee in the “Tech Education Award” category—results will be announced on April 18—and today, you get this recognition from ITERA. What is your state of mind?
It is the second time that ITERA bestows the “Outstanding Program of the Year” award upon CICS. For Professor Steve Jones, the recognition is a gold standard because of its peer review system. “National recognition by your peers for excellence in our programs, research, and courses is like having peer-reviewed article accepted for publication by those who know your program is exceptional.”
Why did ITERA choose to recognize CICS over competing programs?
CICS Professor and Founder of the Program Dr. Ray Steele believes that CICS’ uniqueness lies in its hybrid and nimble nature. “We are not about narrow specialization because it changes very often. We teach our people how to learn in a frenetic world, how to look at problem solving with people/organizations—not just tech—in mind, and in a context in which an entrepreneurial mindset with a leadership sense is so important to overall success.”
For CICS Professor Frank Groom, the caliber of the faculty and their dedication to moving the needle in the industry is key. “The CICS Professors have spent their lives participating in and frequently leading American Industry, and various national and international conference programs. They spend a large portion of their time researching new trends in technology and appropriate applications of such in various industries.”
Dr. Jones agrees. “Very few of our peers have faculty members with a requirement for industry experience and the terminal degree.” He adds, “our social learning program to develop leadership outside of the classroom has been imitated but never duplicated. Our commitment to student development, industry partner engagement, career placement and applied research truly sets up apart.”
How do you keep your finger on the pulse of the tech industry, and how do you inject that knowledge back into your curriculum? In other words, how do you stay relevant?
Engaging industry partners is always top of mind for CICS. This is evidenced by the relationships the Center maintains with companies like CISCO Networking, Amazon Web Services, Palo Alto, IBM, EMC2 and Genesys.
Ball State Career Center Associate Director Stephanie Wilson stresses that this is a deliberate choice. “CICS has a long history with the technology industry because they intentionally listen to the needs but most importantly find actionable solutions to the needs.”
For example, back in 2015 many universities, including Ball State, had their records stolen from Anthem and distributed by hackers. In response to that, Dr. Groom and Dr. Jones authored a book on Network Data Security. Dr. Groom also created a class to educate students on the topic.
“The faculty, staff, and alumni are committed to maintaining the program’s culture of curiosity, support, and growth.” Stephanie Wilson
CICS faculty members also stay up to date with the latest developments in the industry via their highly engaged alumni community. This resulted in CICS Associate Director Kirsten Smith coining the phrase “The alumni network is our secret sauce”. Dr. Jones could not agree more with that statement. “NOTHING beyond the classroom has been achievable without the engagement and generosity of our alumni.” In collaboration with Dr Groom, he published a series of books co-authored by CICS alumni who are experts in their respective fields.
CICS alumni often talk about the emphasis the Center puts on experiential learning and personal development. Can you tell us more about that?
Trey Berry, Class of 2020, walks us through what experiential learning is about. “CICS has a built-in Social Learning Program (SLP) which allows students to attend events with fellow students, CICS alumni, and business leaders from around the area. These events include: wine tastings, an annual ski trip, and golf outings. Alongside the SLP, CICS hosts professional development events with business leaders such as resume reviews and mock interviews. These events built into the program are a reflection of the Center’s goal to develop well-rounded leaders upon graduation. Many students use those events to get out of their comfort zone and learn the soft skills that are necessary to become successful in the professional field.”
“We teach our students to believe in themselves and in success as their goal, as individuals or on teams,” adds Dr. Steele.
“While the tech industry is ever evolving, the preceding is a constant. Our courses must constantly change in examples and case content for application but the approach to critical analysis, thinking, and human consideration does not disappear or seek the next fad. That is why our alums have promotion success and companies come back to hire year after year.”
Talking about recruitment, what makes CICS graduates attractive candidates on the job market?
“Each class that goes through CICS is prepared to take on the professional challenges post-graduation because they are given three years’ worth of experiences in eleven months,” shares Trey Berry. CICS’s career placement rates seem to confirm that—96% of their 2019 graduates found a job prior to graduation.
According to Stephanie Wilson, “the Center has the ability to produce graduates who enter the industry prepared, excited for challenges, and engaged.” Her views are shared by David Pilkington, Sr. Director of Technology at tech company Ontario Systems. Listen to him talk about CICS graduates in the video below.