Practicums Give Bicoastal Students the Credibility Required at Job Time-Silicon Valley Campus - Carnegie Mellon University

Practicums Give Bicoastal Students the Credibility Required at Job Time-Silicon Valley Campus - Carnegie Mellon University

Practicums Give Bicoastal Students the Credibility Required at Job Time

The words experience necessary in a job listing can be disheartening to recent grads.

At the Information Networking Institute (INI), however, students are encouraged to apply their talents to real-world needs. And that helps to raise their resumes to the top of the stack. One of the best examples is the practicum, a semester-long team project for a real-world client. It is required for students in the Pittsburgh-Silicon Valley Master of Science in Information Technology (MSIT) programs, who spend a summer and fall semester in the technology industry’s most innovative region.

The practicum client presents a problem to a team of three to five students, who devise a solution in fourteen weeks. The team must apply engineering knowledge, as well as management skills, to negotiate deliverables with the client. They document the process along the way.

“Often, a company will come to us with higher risk projects that they can’t justify doing inhouse and want to prototype and evaluate the idea in an university setting. Another type of client is one who has built an application framework but want students to write sample applications before releasing the framework to developers,” said Wendy Fong, Senior Strategic Programs Manager, Carnegie Mellon Silicon Valley, who helps match students to companies. She works closely with the INI's Jennifer Burkett and faculty who supervise the practicum.

“If something works well, we want to repeat that experience for clients in the future. We have a number of companies that come back, including Ericsson, Intel and Bosch,” she said.

Alcatel-Lucent and McAfee are also among the practicum clients. Samsung joined the list after Shubhanshu Nagar (MS21), a student in the MSIT – Software Management program, sought out a project with the electronics giant. Samsung asked Nagar’s team to enhance a locationbased service for Android phones by proposing changes to the application programming interface. The MSIT team applied their newly gained knowledge of software development and mobility to come up with a solution.

Fresh from a summer internship working with Android, Nagar brought to the project a solid understanding of the operating system. He found the environment “suited for agile development, easy internationalization and reusability of code” for application development. Through the practicum, he improved his programming in Java and practiced wrangling with various devices that run different versions of the OS. And importantly, he built up his teamwork skills.

“It is really important to learn how to work with different types of people, how to make the most efficient use of team meetings and to deliver results,” said Nagar. “In a nutshell, working in a team should be a part of your grad school experience, so that you are well prepared to step into the real world and take charge right from the word go.”

Nagar found the innovation at Samsung compelling, like “being at the center of disruption” as new mobile devices enable users with smart, powerful technology. "At the R&D lab in San Jose, the work is for six months or two years down the line, which results in producing something relevant with immediate impact,” he said.

Carnegie Mellon Silicon Valley is a bridge between academia and the heart of the information technology industry. There are five universities and more than 45 industry partners, start-up companies and non-profits in the NASA Research Park alone, where the campus is located.

Through a set of strategic programs, there are several ways that industry can get involved with students. In addition to the practicum, companies could fund a Ph.D. student or a research assistant or partner with the CyLab Mobility Research Center. Some donate technology, such as a recent gift of 70 Android phones from Google. Two students first wrote example code to access the phone’s sensors before passing them to 20 masters students who, after five weeks, had developed 15 different mobile applications, several posters sessions and YouTube demos.

Fong works closely with Carnegie Mellon’s partners, helping them reap the benefits of their university connection. But also, she sees first-hand how the industry exposure enhances a student’s skill set. “Some of them don’t have four or five years at a job on their resumes," she said. "But in the one and a half years they’re at Carnegie Mellon, they get a great deal of industry experience.”