Grant extends IS study

The Informations Systems department invites students from historically black colleges and universities to attend summer program. (credit: Travis Wolfe/Photo Staff) The Informations Systems department invites students from historically black colleges and universities to attend summer program. (credit: Travis Wolfe/Photo Staff)

Carnegie Mellon’s Information Systems (IS) department has finally settled on its summer plans: mentoring students from historically black colleges and universities (HBCU) and familiarizing them with the IS field. The summer program, “Information Systems in the Community,” is an intensive six-week course that brings these students to Carnegie Mellon to learn about IS from the faculty. The program began six years ago, and last week it was made possible for the next two years with a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

“Carnegie Mellon and the Mellon Foundation have a long and productive history of sponsoring programs in higher education that make a real difference and have lasting impact,” said Randy Weinberg, professor and head of the information systems program. “We’re fortunate, and especially so in today’s economic climate, to enjoy the Foundation’s continuing support and confidence.”

The Mellon Foundation is a non-profit corporation started by Paul Mellon, the son of Andrew W. Mellon, in 1941.

Since its inception, the program has served to make grants in six core areas including higher education and scholarship, as in the case of the IS program.

When the program began six years ago, it was due to an initial grant by the Mellon Foundation. This year’s grant totals $206,000 and will allow operation of the program for 16 students over the next two summers.

“The students learn to create information systems solutions that meet the real-world needs of local non-profit organizations ... and build an understanding of IS opportunities available to them after college,” said Jeria Quesenberry, an assistant IS professor who worked with the program last summer.

This past summer, six students designed a custom software system for the Pittsburgh Light of Life Rescue Mission, a non-profit organization aimed at providing food, shelter, and recovery programs to Pittsburgh’s homeless population.

“Although the program is a major time commitment for the faculty, we really enjoy working with the students in this program,” Weinberg said.
Last year’s team called themselves “Team Synergetic 6.” They worked hands-on with Weinberg, Quesenberry, and Larry Heimann, another IS professor involved with the program last summer, as well as their client, Light of Life. Their deliverable program enabled Light of Life to easily identify, match, manage, track, and evaluate mentoring relationships for Light of Life’s CARE program that provides homeless men and women mentors to assist them in graduating from homelessness.

Heimann elaborated on the benefits for “Team Synergetic 6” as well as past participants.

“There are no grades, so students are really here to learn and take advantage of the tremendous educational opportunities afforded by Carnegie Mellon,” he said.

According to a Carnegie Mellon press release, 10 of the program’s past participants have been accepted and fully funded by scholarships to obtain a master’s degree in IS at Carnegie Mellon.

Heimann, Weinberg, and Quesenberry all said that the effect of diversity goes beyond the student body.

“The program demonstrates Carnegie Mellon’s commitment to promoting diversity — not just in words, but in actions. Business and community leaders throughout Pittsburgh are aware of the program and have applauded CMU for taking a leadership role in promoting diversity within our region,” Heimann said.

Students learn about technology, project management, client relations, and teamwork through a mix of classroom teaching and hands-on exercises by professors such as himself, Quesenberry, and Weinberg, before applying them to their given project.

Heimann explained that one of his students last summer said he learned more about databases in that one summer than he had in a semester-long course at his home institution.

“This has been a wonderful experience from which we have all grown personally and professionally,” Weinberg said. “We’ve established valuable friendships and personal links with a good number of HBCUs and we look forward to building up these relationships in the future.”