One of Fordham University’s rallying cries to outgoing students is to go forth and set the world on fire; a saying from St. Ignatius of Loyola. Fordham offers great educational opportunities and by embracing technology the school can empower us students to have the tools to attain even greater success. The rapid growth of technological innovation in the world and the Greater New York community should make technology a central piece of Fordham’s education. Structural, cultural and inadequate resources and support have created a poor environment for technology at Fordham, making it inadequate in informing students of how technology can improve their everyday lives and better prepare them to enter a more technical workplace.
The reluctance towards working with technology is widespread across both students and faculty. Instead of ignoring this weakness, we should look for ways that technology can empower students to further excel in fields of their choice, which align with their passions or goals whether they chose to have a career in technology or not.
Technology is improving fast, and that’s a good thing
Software is eating the world, but it is not an entity of its own. Technology can be a foundational base to work from to “educate the whole person”. Technology is an extension of the human will that expands our capabilities and a tool that should be wielded in all hands no matter the domain. The university should not have to have “Technology” in its name to take on this endeavor as it is a fundamental part of the world we live in today.
“A single birthday card weighing less than a gram with a microchip that plays ‘happy birthday’ when you open it contains more computer power than existed on the whole planet 50 years ago.” – Diane Coyle (1997) The Weightless World, Capstone, Oxford.
The rapid pace of technological progress means that the future will arrive faster, and we students should be prepared to understand the potential and capabilities of technology in order to capitalize on future opportunities. Fordham should position itself to ride the wave of technological change.
The Computer Science field has emerged as the fundamental platform for the future. Learning how to code has also gained much attention, but it important to note that Computer Science is not just coding. Programming/Coding is just another tool computer scientists use to explore their field. The benefit of having a deeper understanding of technology is learning how to think more logically and computationally by breaking down complex problems into smaller ones, and coding seems to be the best way to teach people.
Learning to read and write communicates and transcribes knowledge in physical form and has enabled the spread of ideas empowering human potential. Understanding technology and utilizing programming transcribes knowledge in a new digital form, making human progress exponential as we are more connected now than at any other time in history.We are bringing together the human collective intelligence, to create what was once thought of being impossible, into the realities of today and tomorrow.
NYC is going Digital
Students that come to Fordham are closely situated to numerous opportunities in the city as New York is home to some of the largest consumer centric and information-centric industries in the countries such as advertising, financial services, marketing services, real estate, publishing, entertainment, retail, recruiting, fashion, design, and more. Fordham has a great opportunity to educate students with the technical foundation needed to take advantage of these new opportunities and act as a bridge for the Bronx to the rest of the city’s digital initiatives.Currently, NYU, Columbia and Cornell are being relied upon to produce a majority of the homegrown top notch technically capable talent for the city.
New York City announced back in 2011, that it launched an initiative to become the “Digital Capital” of the world, outlined in the city’s first Digital Roadmap. In 2013, 40 initiatives in the City’s digital growth plan, across areas of infrastructure, education, open data, engagement and industry were completed completed. Prior NYC major, Michael Bloomberg in 2011, announced Cornell University the winning university, with the opportunity to build new tech campuses on Roosevelt Island beating out many top universities. A report in 2013 showed that NYC’s second largest job sector was tech. There were over 262,000 high paying jobs in tech and information making it one of the fastest growing sectors in NY, and the trends are also happening nationwide. In the Bronx, investments are happening as well with the opening of Bronx Academy for Software Engineering (BASE), a CTE high school that prepares students to work and play in the world of software design and programming.
Key departments with opportunities for greater collaboration
Two departments at Fordham whose responsibilities include educating students about modern technologies are the Computer Science department as part of the STEM component in the Liberal Arts School and the Information and Communication Systems department in the Business School. Here are some brief overviews of these two area to give those unfamiliar a partial understanding:
Computer Science is the study of efficiently implementing automated abstract models of real world situations. In essence, it is problem solving. One way CS teaches problem solving is by learning problem identification and applying a pattern of step by step instructions also called algorithms to evoke actions on models they have created, often organizing and manipulating data with data structures. The study includes a lot discovery and invention. Including, theorizing about the nature of data and computation, testing and expanding its limits.
Information Systems is the study of the design and application of information systems to analyze and solve business problems. This academic discipline bridges and combines some business and computer science fundamentals. On a practical level, it focuses on the management of these systems, less on theory and more on implementation and design.Data is a central piece of Information Systems, and when used in conjunction with information technologies, it can produce actionable information for businesses.
There are a number of additional structural issues that play a hand in a weak environment around technology.
Where art thou collaborators?
Rather than work collaboratively, departments operate in silos, missing the opportunity to leverage technological innovation to improve both classroom performance, and departmental operations. When I’ve spoken to some administrators or professors, I often get responses towards the under representation of Fordham students in more technical situations or roles that require a stronger technical competency with, “We’re not a technical school”. This is a dangerous mindset to have because as time goes on you will see the world get even more technical, and the classical Liberal Arts or Business methodologies for delivering education will be sub-par if they do not adapt in time.
Going to business school to learn how to build a business is not necessarily required and being a computer science major is not required to learn how to code or understand the capabilities of technology. However, the fragmented and isolated nature of these functions of the university creates knowledge tunnels that fail to enrich the overall culture of the school in a cross domain ecosystem necessary to create a lively and diverse community of dynamically skilled students.
Computer Science classes currently are optional and aren’t part of the core curriculum.CS is within the mathematics area, and students choose between the two areas. Many of the courses within CS have prerequisites and often times juniors or seniors have little room in the courses schedule to bundle all the classes and if they do, the rigor of taking multiple levels of CS within the same semester, strains certain students, damaging their grades. This makes the class experience less than ideal for other students who are presented with watered down material whose purpose is to lessen the course load, in addition to waiting on a slower class pace for students falling behind.
Information Systems is part of the core curriculum for the business school, but the material is skewed towards corporate technologies. Too much emphasis is on business and not enough on technology, barely scratching the surface. The technologies are much harder to teach, require more time, and the business situations taught do not translate too well into the real world where most individuals learn their own business environments with on the job training.
The employment landscape is changing, and opportunities are becoming more fragmented and companies smaller and leaner. The corporate culture also does not appeal that highly to the younger generation as it did in the past. Startups and nonprofits, which tend to be smaller sized have opened up many new opportunities for students to go after. Technologies that Information Systems focuses on are often expensive, proprietary and clunky with little ease of usability within newer environments. The technologies you’ll find these smaller companies using are open source technologies, modern programming languages and frameworks that are more cost effective, with lowers the barriers to entry, and they quicker to develop and easier to deploy. These are the technologies that will build the companies of tomorrow and the IS department should reinvent itself to provide students with the knowledge to use these tools. In addition, the IS department should place its best teachers in its introductory course to drive more enrollment and effectively communicate the opportunities in technology as it has the opportunity and responsibility, being a part of the core curriculum.
When it comes to students majoring in technical areas, Fordham College at Rose Hill, had an enrollment of around 3,613 in 2013 and had around 35 students who graduated as Computer Science majors. Gabelli School of Business had an enrollment of around 2,058 and around seven students graduated as Information and Communication Systems majors. It is important to note that there are more students who choose to minor or concentrate in Computer Science or Information and Communication Systems. However, Concentrations or Minors are often inadequate in their current execution as the low course requirement and placement of programming heavy courses at the end of the curriculum, when students are near the end of the junior/senior year, gives students very limited exposure to applied uses of the technology and very little programming experience.
Upper level technology subjects often lack tutors, and there aren’t enough extracurricular alternatives for projects outside of the classroom. The departments also do not have a strong marketing and communications function to effectively communicate it’s opportunities, student’s works and presence on campus.
Additional resources for student clubs
Administrators can only do some much, so students often have to take extra initiative to organize and collaborate to share opportunities, connections and knowledge with each other. It is difficult for student clubs on campus to take on extra responsibilities being faced with limited budgets and multiple obstacles to promoting or finding locations for events. The budget allocation process is not too balanced either. You’d have an easier time as a political club getting a 15 thousand dollar speaker or a student campus activities club having five thousand dollars worth of props and trinkets than an educational or technical club requesting money for a couple hundred dollars for a workshop host/materials or technical hardware because your event is not considered open enough.
When I was starting my own club, The Digital Business Society, a business and technology club, I applied for club approval during the middle of my junior year and 10 months and six club constitution proposals later by the middle of my Senior year in college, the club was officiated.During this time, we were restricted from directly reserving rooms or posting fliers and had to utilize other professors as a frontman/woman to reserve rooms or have our fliers approved. Other student clubs in the making face similar challenges.
Need for mentorship
Fordham’s mentoring program which pairs students one-on-one with alumni greatly under-represents alumni with technical backgrounds, depriving students of an additional channel for insights into a career in technology. In my senior year, I applied to the mentorship program and was told there were no mentors available. Finding speakers for a technical event at Fordham, using a quick LinkedIn search landed me three speakers who were Fordham alum working in technical fields and wanted to give back in some way to the school. I was unable to find a mentor through formal processes. I had sufficient experience working with technology for a number of years while in school and I took the initiative and found two fellow students who needed some guidance around careers in technology and became their mentor informally while I was still in school. After graduation, now in the workforce, I applied to be an official mentor and was told that they were unable to find students with an interest in technology who were seeking a mentor.
Fordham’s Technology Services
Some programs which the school has, Fordham Instructional Technology Academic Computing and Fordham Student Technology Services have very light footprint in their activities on campus. FITAC has not published a blog post in almost three years, and there is little transparency on its actions. Some professors total inability to effectively utilize instructional technologies, even as to completely avoid them and use archaic means to communication and distribute classroom resources hints that that program may need to be more clever in its approach to educating faculty.
The student technology services currently focuses on technical support duties and are often underutilized with little activity around more engaging technical activities on campus.
Underrepresentation of Technology Opportunities at Career Fairs
The structural inefficiencies in preparing students with a strong technical background is evident in the career fairs that happen on campus. Despite technology being one of the faster growing fields, technology companies do not recruit much from Fordham. The career fairs favor towards Accounting and Finance companies with very few openings compared to the hundreds of students dressed up looking for opportunities. There are thousands of open and high paying full-time and internship opportunities for technically competent candidates. Fordham does not seem prepared in connecting students, whether they are technology majors or not, to many of these opportunities in the digital economy.
Moving towards a Digital Fordham
We have walked through some key structural issues that have led to a poor environment around technology which results in low enrollments, inadequate technical preparation for the workforce and low student and faculty engagement around clubs and technical opportunities. As a result, Fordham is not fully aligning its potential with more technical opportunities available in the Greater New York area and the educational landscape.
The good news is that we attend a fine university with a strong culture as well as the famous educational adaptabilityof the Jesuits. Fordham has implemented the Eloquentia Perfecta which combines oral and written rhetoric, speech/listing with writing/reading as well as the infamous integrated business core which gives students a strong grounding in business fundamentals. Fordham constantly tries to improve, and technology is just another opportunity for improvement. Now is the time to make technology part of the backbone of a Fordham education.
- Computer Science should be a part of the core curriculum to provide students with the necessary foundation to apply technology across multiple areas of their personal life and in their careers.
- Fordham should embrace the idea of the “Digital Humanities” and pilot a joint major program with Computer Science and another area of liberal arts. Stanford University recently announced such an initiative for its program.
“Computing now plays a significant role in a wide variety of other fields and has become integral to many of those fields,” said Jennifer Widom, professor and chair of the Computer Science Department. “These joint majors will allow students to gain mastery of two distinct fields of study while also exploring the increasing connections between them.”
- To improve the enrollment of women in computer-science, Fordham can take note from Harvey Mudd College, which quadrupled its women CS graduates in just six years. To accomplish this Harvey Mudd retooled their intro CS classes with more focus on practical applications and less on the inner details of computers and software. In addition, they split introductory classes into three groups based on student’s previous experience so students would not have “imposter fears” and feel like they did not belong in the class. Making CS a core would give the department the necessary volume of students to make this practical.
- The Information Systems department has been making many improvements led by a new chairman, implementing a modern career oriented track to give students more focus. Still the underlying technologies used need to be updated and should have more focus on open technologies and less on proprietary corporate focused technologies so the tools can have a broader appeal.
- Highly dynamic and engaging faculty should teach the introductory IS course, whom students can relate to with focus on the benefits and applications of technology and less on the business situation.
- Technology clubs on campus should have access to more funding to run the necessary programs to educate and engage the larger student body. It is not feasible for technical departments to update their curriculum every time technology changes as it advances so rapidly; the focus is on the foundations and the how and why to learn new technologies as well as its applications.Technical clubs, however can gear their efforts to what their members demand in a much more dynamic way.
- Many student clubs can benefit through collaborating with technical clubs as technology has impacted many fields and dimensions of communication and entertainment.
- Increased transparency and dialog, possibly through a forum and town hall meetings to allow for the overall general student body as well as faculty and administrators to voice their opinions, concerns and ideas about integrating technology deeper into the culture and curriculum at Fordham.
- Fordham needs to engage students early about the benefits and applications of technology as Professors cannot do all the heavy lifting. I propose that the Student Technology Services be retooled to have a larger educational and training focus to help grow more knowledgeable and tech savvy Fordham students.
- Fordham Instructional Technology Academic Computing can publicly publish Professors who have successfully gone through training or who have made a commitment to improving the teaching environment to incorporate more modern and efficient communication and distribution mechanisms.
- A stronger technical culture will bring more credibility to the University and draw larger opportunities from high profile speakers to top tech companies located in NY such as Yahoo, Facebook or Google to name a few.
- There are plenty of Fordham Alumni who can shed light on the importance of technology in their lives and the workforce. Fordham can tap into its network to create new initiatives for cross functional skills by partnering with alumni in the industry and having a strong technical platform across campuses to execute on.
- Technology enables “Social Good” to scale and to follow the Jesuit philosophy of homines pro aliis, men and women for others, a technically empowered Fordham can impact the community to a larger degree. Right in our own background at Rose Hill, there are many Bronxites whose lives would be changed if more technically equipped students volunteered and taught them the basic technical skills necessary to gain employment or even manage their day to day lives.
- Fordham has a highly passionate community of students that have been inspired by the Jesuit teachings and values and have found passion and purpose through Social Entrepreneurial efforts. A healthy technological core will enable more students to have the knowledge on how to use technology to execute on these social initiatives and more.
Computers are everywhere and understanding a bit more about them gives you an edge and allows you to shape them to your will, and that gives you “freedom over the machines”. Author Bill Ferriter, passionately emphasized the concept that, Technology is a Tool, Not a learning Outcome. The technology itself isn’t the main motivator for people, its the opportunities that technologies provide to make a difference in their lives and empowers them to change the world. Technology is like a blank canvas. When you have a narrow set of individuals controlling how it is created and used, you end up with a single colored painting. Opening up and educating a wide breath of individuals about how they can utilize and create with technology, empowers the human spirit and creates a canvas filled with many colors; the ideas and perspectives that spread and democratize the flow of information and creation. The current state of technology is just that, a state, it can change.Fordham can reach a greater potential through awareness and action. A “Digital Fordham”, with a strong technology culture will be a strong selling point to many prospective students and will be a beacon of progress to our alumni and other educational institutions. I encourage my fellow students to speak up about the issue and share this essay. I encourage professors and administrators to let our students help them and drive some dialog about the issue so we can take this University to the next level. Technological change and progress are here to stay, so let’s bring out the welcome mat; elephants are allowed as well.
Fordham students, alumni and faculty can sign this petition: http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/tech-at-fordham to gauge the interest and support for a fordham technology initiative.
This post is also published on Medium.
Special thanks to Ross G. , John M., Yancy C., Justin L., Saleem K. ,Kenneth D., Sam H., Nevin K., Jeff L. , Peter B., Nis F. , and Atul K. for reviewing early drafts of this essay.
About the author: Juvoni Beckford is a recent graduate ‘13 from Fordham University Gabelli School of Business where he studied Information Systems and Marketing with a Minor in Computer Science. He founded the Digital Business Society at Fordham which aims to connect students to the many opportunities in the digital economy. He now works as a Software Developer and Technical Consultant in NY.