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Getting a piece of the PIE

Ever tried to find an RPG course at your local community college? How about a course on using the iSeries 400 as a Web server?

Keene State College, Keene, N.H. offers courses in each. So does Gwinnett Technical College in Lawrenceville, Ga. Both schools are members of IBM's Partners In Education program (PIE). PIE forms a triangular relationship among Big Blue, the schools and local industry.

For example, IBM provides reduced leases on machines and curriculum materials on a host of platform topics ranging from operations to e-commerce. Local businesses, by contrast, provide guidance and technical expertise to the schools. Some partners even provide employees to teach as adjunct professors. Others pay for the machine's lease.

The schools in turn provide training to prospective iSeries professionals and help polish the skills of existing workers.

Last year, some Keene, N.H.-based companies approached Jerry Joyce of Keene State's computer science department. They didn't train iSeries professionals and wanted the school to get involved with PIE. The application was sent in March of 1999, the iSeries came in December and the first class began last January. "Such speed doesn't happen very often in colleges," said Joyce, the department's chairman.

What makes it even more interesting is that no members of the staff had experience with the platform. "I think it's a beautiful server," Joyce said. "I think the midrange systems and mainframes will be the servers of the future. You can't keep Unix secure and you can't keep NT up and running all the time."

The iSeries platform fits nicely in the department's curriculum since students are required to take courses in another platform besides Windows NT. Students can know take courses in either Unix or iSeries to fulfill that requirement.

Approximately 70 (half of computer science majors) took iSeries courses last spring. About 30 students are taking it this semester. So far several students have received positions in the industry even after just a semester, Joyce said.

In its four years, the PIE program has racked up over 425 member schools ranging in size from community college to Pennsylvania State University according to Linda Grigoleit, the program's manager. The program is built on three tenets: equipment, facility education and curriculum. For example, IBM offers a machine lease program where schools pay 1% of the retail value each month for 24 months.

To educate professors, IBM offers them a two-week conference each summer where they can learn about the technology and share teaching techniques, Grigoleit said. Professors can also take courses at IBM learning centers for free. IBM offers curriculum materials but schools are under no obligation under the program to teach with them.

"I found the little boot camp particularly useful," Joyce said. "You learn a lot about the technology of the machine, how to teach it, what students like about it and what industry is looking for."

Gwinnett Technical College is a little further ahead having started the program three years ago. Students have gone on to get starting salaries of $35,000, $45,000 or even $55,000, said Lorri Pitchell. "The people making $55,000 usually have prior business experience but came back for the IT piece."

Gwinnett will be offering iSeries courses through the Web-based Georgia Virtual Technical College to students from all across the state, Pitchell said. However, some convincing was of the school's administration was needed to get involved with the program. "All the students were pounding down the doors wanting to learn Windows," Pitchell said. But one of the school's sponsors, Inter-American Data, ended out paying the $700 or $800 a month lease fee for the machine.

Moreover, Gwinnett was able to integrate IBM's course materials into the school's curriculum. For example, when teaching a database class, students are shown Access on Windows, DB2 on the iSeries and Oracle on Unix. "Students see the database philosophy doesn't change but how you do on a different system does," Pitchell said.

For more information:

Partners in Education program

IBM PIE white paper

Got news? Send it to: Edward Hurley, Assistant News Editor

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