New master's program targets industrial professionalsWEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- Using a first-of-its kind combination of distance learning technologies and hands-on research experiences, Purdue University is putting a master of science degree within reach of business and industry professionals across the country.
"There are a few other technology schools, including East Carolina University, that offer master of science degrees purely via distance education," explains Duane Dunlap, associate professor of industrial technology at Purdue. "But we feel that face-time with faculty members and other graduate students is very important, and that's a component of our program that no other university is offering in technology."
Dunlap says ever-changing technologies and business conditions make advanced education and professional development activities increasingly important for people working in manufacturing, distribution and information technology.
"The problem has always been making those opportunities available to those who need them most -- the full-time employees who don't have regular access to a college campus," he says.
Purdue's School of Technology has removed some of those obstacles by creating a weekend master's program that delivers 55 percent of its course content by way of distance-education technologies. The other 45 percent of instruction comes during three long weekends on the West Lafayette campus each semester.
Distance education refers to courses in which the instructors and students are at different geographic locations but can communicate via computers, videoconferencing, e-mail and other technical means.
Dunlap says there are numerous benefits to the Friday-to-Sunday sessions that go way beyond sitting in an actual classroom rather than a virtual one. Because academic activity on the campus generally slows down on weekends, students have almost unlimited access to School of Technology lab facilities and other Purdue resources. And it allows students to interact with each other.
"What they quickly find out is that even though they all work for different companies, they're all facing the same problems. Being able to talk to each other and compare notes is an invaluable element of the weekend sessions," Dunlap says.
The first class will graduate next spring.
"Our current students range from 27 to 54 years old, and several hold senior director positions in their companies, which means they report directly to a vice president," Dunlap says. "We also have people working in technical marketing and sales positions, human resources, and engineering. The program is broad-based in terms of curriculum, but it's also flexible enough for students to do a bit of tailoring to fit their own professional needs and interests."
Students must go through the formal graduate school application process to enroll. They must have completed a bachelor's degree with at least a B average and have a minimum of five years of full-time work experience, as well as access to a computer and the Internet. Additionally, their employer is required to sign a letter of commitment on their behalf, which will ensure that they get the time off necessary to travel to West Lafayette three Fridays each semester. The current crop of master's degree candidates includes a student who lives and works in Milwaukee, and Dunlap has seen applications from as far away as California and Texas.
"It's a five-semester commitment for both the student and the employer, but so far the release time has not been an issue," Dunlap says. "In fact, the information technology department at Cummins Engine Inc. (Columbus, Ind.) not only grants its enrolled students time off, but also pays for their tuition, books, travel expenses and accommodations."
Rob Rush, the director of information technology and organizational effectiveness at Cummins, is among the first at his company to enroll in the program.
"As an information technology professional, I was interested in a program that would provide me with the knowledge and skills required to lead and manage the introduction and deployment of real-world technologies," Rush says. "Purdue's School of Technology has an outstanding reputation in this area."
Applications are now being accepted for the class of 2001. Only 30 students are enrolled in each class to ensure that all students get sufficient time with instructors and use of facilities during the weekend sessions. Application deadlines and tuition information are available on the program's Web site at.
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