NKU's College of Informatics develops talent, builds entrepreneurial culture in NKY

The ties between college learning and real-world work experience are pulling even tighter with technological advances, and that collaboration is evident at Northern Kentucky University's new College of Informatics (COI).
The COI had a coming out party in 2011 when it expanded and moved into the new state-of-the-art Griffin Hall. One of the nation's few informatics colleges, it crosses disciplines, offering nine Bachelor's degrees, five Master's degrees, and a variety of undergrad and graduate certificates.

A sampling of informatics majors include: Business Informatics, Computer Information Technology, Computer Science, Electronic Media & Broadcasting, Journalism, Public Relations, Business Informatics (Graduate) and Health Informatics (Graduate).

At the core of every major is culling, managing, sharing and making effective business decisions by sorting through vast amounts of information gathered everyday through technological advances.
"If you think about it, now every business is an information technology business, whether it's a traditional IT organization, or corner shop that uses Square (a credit card processing app). Every business, large and small, gathers information to assist in business operations," says NKU President Geoffrey Mearns. "We are ahead of the curve. There are a growing number of these colleges, but they are trying to catch up with NKU."
A strong component of Northern Kentucky University's mission is immersion into the community. Student and faculty often venture outside of the classroom into the community, and the COI is no different.
Through the Center for Applied Informatics, part of the COI, students and area companies collaborate on real-world tech projects that keep existing businesses competitive. This also plays an important role in developing local talent and cultivating a culture of entrepreneurship in NKY.
Increasingly, the college also is becoming a professional training resource for the business community. This fall, the Center for Applied Informatics will host a free IT Security Symposium for industry professionals to learn about the latest in software security and privacy.
Meanwhile, the Center for Applied Informatics offers student internships, cooperatives, and "experiential," or project learning, teaming with businesses who need student experts in graphic design, website and mobile app development.
These students recently worked with Northern Kentucky startups as part of the region's new UpTech business incubator. UpTech was launched in 2012 by several Northern Kentucky institutions, including Northern Kentucky University, Northern Kentucky Tri-ED, ezone and Vision 2015.
The intense, six-month accelerator program started in June and included $100,000 in funding for chosen high tech business. UpTech is accepting applications for a second class until May 24, 2013.
"Our students worked on UpTech projects. Many of them had mobile apps that were developed by our students. We have about 80 students in our Mobile and Web academy. But students didn't contribute only in that area; we had some who helped businesses with their marketing and PR, or business strategies. It really hit informatics across the board," says COI Dean Kevin Kirby.

Real-world learning that trains local talent for area jobs is a cornerstone of COI learning, adds President Mearns.
"The essence of what we're trying to achieve with the college is teaching students how to find meaningful employment, giving them the skills they need while working in a high tech environment," he says.

That environment extends into the learning space itself. Griffin Hall, where the college is located, isn't your typical learning space. Like the programs and equipment it houses, Griffin Hall is a modern learning environment. Nothing showcases that more than the college's digitorium.

The space is similar to a lecture hall, but the seating faces a floor-to-ceiling digital media wall that broadcasts live and recorded images. The hall's seating is retractable, and the room has a second level of glassed-in "opera boxes." The multi-purpose digitorium hosts speakers, collaborative group activities, live and virtual events and more.

Unlike a traditional classroom setting, many Griffin Hall classrooms are designed with no front of the room.

"There is no podium, and faculty constantly interacts with the group. There's a concept in education known as 'Flip the Classroom.' Instead of a lecturer standing in front of the room feeding content to students, they'll use the actual classroom time for interaction. That's really what we wanted to have here. (Griffin Hall) was designed for interaction," Kirby says.
Next fall, the university is adding a new CIO undergraduate major in Data Science, spurred by business demand. It's believed to be one of the first, if not the first, undergraduate degrees in the country in Data Science.
Essentially, the major will focus on Big Data management, giant data sets that can't easily be stored or interpreted. Think of the data a corporation like Walmart, Kroger or Google collects from its users.
"There is tremendous demand for graduates in this area. Students can specialize in business analytics or in performance computing. They will be extracting and interpreting vast amounts of data," Kirby says. "We're ahead of the curve here."
The COI is just a few years old, but informatics and technology are rapidly evolving industries. NKU too must be on the cusp of change to keep up. Businesses will benefit.

Northern Kentucky Tri-ED works closely with NKU's College of Informatics to ensure that the tech workforce is value added and available to employers in the high tech arena.

Photo: Kevin Kirby speaks on a video screen in the digitorium at the Griffin Hall grand opening. Courtesy Northern Kentucky University. 

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