February 21, 2014

Story originally by Reporter David Lippman of WGMB-FOX44 News on Thursday, February 20, 2014.

BATON ROUGE, LA (FOX44) — Louisiana is positioned as well as any other state in the country to create jobs in the next decade. But the state's biggest problem might be training enough people to fill them.

As technology changes and advances, Louisiana will have a greater need for programmers and engineers to shape the future of industry.

"The job market is probably better than it's ever been for graduating CS people," said LSU senior Alexander Duchene.

"There are so many high-tech companies: Google, Yahoo!, LinkedIn, Facebook, that need these graduates immediately," claimed Matt Dirks. "They really, really do.”

And in Baton Rouge, add the company Dirks works for, IBM, to that list. It broke ground last fall on a project that will need 800 employees. It is one of many high-tech businesses that Louisiana expects to come here in the next several years. But Baton Rouge is not Silicon Valley. To help the state land all the new jobs that it can, Louisiana Economic Development told LSU it needed to make changes.

"As part of the arrangement we have with LED, we have agreed to triple the number of undergraduate students that graduate in computer science from LSU in the next five years," said Rick Koubek, Dean of LSU's College of Engineering and Computer Science. "We expect to double the number of faculty that we have; we're adding substantially to this facility, to make room for all those students."

But aside from changing the size of the student body, the college is also trying to change the experience they receive.

"My whole expectation of computer science was just a lot of programming and stuff like that," said Damond Howard, a LSU sophomore. "I didn't know it was going to have a lot of organizations, and clubs, and activities, and things you can participate in."

"In today's environment, for an engineer, communication skills and teamwork are just as important as your technical skills," Koubek explained, "and that's where LSU excels."

LSU is also bringing the real world into the classroom. IBM brought Dirks, a senior learning analyst, to Baton Rouge to help redesign the entire computer science curriculum.

"Changes have been significant,” Koubek stated.

IBM not only worked with professors to change the kinds of things they teach, but it got LSU to add new classes, and even new majors in cloud networking and data analytics.

"We've really moved very rapidly," Dirks claimed. "I'm very, very encouraged with how LSU has been very nimble. They've been very willing to accept all these changes, they're very open to all of the stuff that IBM is bringing, and we're making a lot of change very quickly."

LSU's partnership with IBM is a rare opportunity for a multinational to give students the kind of education they need to be successful employees.

"It's not so much that academics aren't providing it, it's that these are new areas," Dirks explained. "Data analytics is a very new area; you don't see a lot of undergraduate degrees in data analytics. There's a few Master's, but I haven't seen a lot at the undergraduate level. Similarly, cloud and network computing. We all know about the cloud; we all listen to music off of the cloud, but how do we get trained to prepare for a career in that area? And lastly, we've got smart commerce, which is, how do you help a business in this digital age prepare and streamline their business so they can succeed?"

Students like the fact that a big company is so closely involved in their schooling, in part because IBM’s impact extends beyond the classroom.

"They have a lot of mentoring opportunities," Duchene noted, "where you can talk to people who have been working anywhere from six months, and so have a good idea about the challenges you'll face just getting started in the industry, to people who have been working ten years, and who can tell you what sort of steps you have to take during your career to continue to advance and be successful.”

"If the computer science department at LSU grows, and more people are in computer science, more companies are going to come here to hire those graduates," Howard added.

With the early success of this partnership, LSU may invite more businesses to be hands-on in teaching their next generation of employees.

"I think you're going to continue to see an enrollment growth in engineering and computer science on one side," Koubek predicted for the future of his college. "And on the other side, you'll continue to see a growing demand for those students upon graduation. It's an exciting time to be in engineering at LSU."

"I'm definitely wearing two hats. LSU is my primary concern," Dirks said. "I want to make sure they have a program that's going to help their graduates succeed. Now, when they have their degree, I want them to be able to get a job anywhere. My second hat says, it would be great if they came to work for IBM!"

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