How I discovered how to fix higher education at Innotech 2011

When I walked into the Innotech Conference, it instantly reminded me of a pre-marathon expo. It had a lot of the same qualities as the traditional pre-marathon expos that take place the day before the race. The attendees were a little less fit than the marathoners, and instead of electrolyte jelly beans the vendors handed out bite sized Snickers bars.  No one was trying to sell me running shoes, but I was enthusiastically encouraged to browse the multitude of pamphlets describing the vendors’ enterprise security packages.

One characteristic of the event that I noticed was a clear anti-Apple focus. I attended one of the talks on “Mobile Strategy;” the speaker spent a significant amount of time talking about the Android’s growing market share,  the Iphone pricing itself out of major markets, and the growing irrelevance of an app store. There was also a large Microsoft corner that displayed several different tablets running Windows 7. It was exactly what you would imagine it to be. Take your Windows 7 laptop, take away the keyboard, turn the screen into a touch screen, and voila, a Windows 7 tablet.  Not great.

The highlight of my day at Innotech was only peripherally involved with the event itself. There was one booth that I found extremely interesting, and possibly a solution to a fundamental problem in undergraduate education. The booth was for the Business Solutions Group based out of Oregon State University. It is effectively a software consulting business that hires student interns from OSU to do all the work. The program is entirely funded by its revenues. The students get real world skills running the business and managing client projects.

As an International Affairs major, I was acutely aware that I wasn’t learning any hard or useful skills from my program. This is generally true with most social studies or liberal arts programs. Yes, you learn how to write long dissertations on hegemonic theory or obscure French literature, but these skills don’t really translate well into the business world. It is no surprise that many of my peers are finding it hard to land jobs that even remotely relate to their majors.

If a program like the Business Solutions Group existed for liberal arts and social studies majors, I believe many more college graduates would have a much easier time finding jobs or even starting their own business. The advantage of such a program being run through a university (as opposed to corporate internships) is that the university would be acting on behalf of the students. It would be relatively easy to check on the program and make sure the students were learning real-world skills and not just fetching coffee for the boss. It wouldn’t put any strain on the school budget, as the program would fund itself through its revenues. The pressure of generating revenue would force the students to implement creative and innovative solutions. If the program ends up losing money, well, it’s not the end of the world. The students aren’t burdened with families to support or mortgages to pay, so the risk is minimal.

The Innotech website states that its goal is to create “an environment where education, innovation, peer-to-peer networking and the latest technology and business solutions are all available specifically for business and technology professionals.” Though I didn’t find a solution to my start-up problems, I did discover a potentially better model for higher education.  Good work Innotech.

Here is the link to the Business Solutions Group website:

http://bsg.oregonstate.edu/

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One response to this post.

  1. It really is a great model/value proposition. We’ve started a similar program, Development Solutions Organization (DSO), with the first pilot held at Carnegie Mellon University.

    DSO’s focus is consulting in the realm of international development. We have teams that focus on management consulting, software consulting, and (in the near future) security consulting. One key benefit, compared to the Business Solutions Group mentioned in the article however, is the fact that we pair up students with professionals in related fields. We currently have professionals with experience from many companies, including Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, LinkedIn, Booz Allen Hamilton, Deloitte, PwC, The Gates Foundation, to name a few. This helps create accountability and reliability for the client, while allowing students to network with and get mentored by experienced professionals. We also offer sponsorship opportunities for companies who want to get the opportunity to recruit top-talent students with a proven track-record.

    In our last recruiting round, we accepted 13 out of over 140 applicants. The pilot has gone well at Carnegie Mellon, and we are rolling out the program at other universities.

    We have opportunities for current students at any university, as well as opportunities for professionals who want to volunteer their time, network, and gain experience in international development.

    More Info: http://dsoglobal.org

    Available Opportunities: http://jobs.dsoglobal.org

    Reply

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