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Big Blue summer school

For one week a year, professors teaching the iSeries on college campuses see how the other side lives -- at iSeries summer school in Rochester, Minn.

Summer is almost in full bloom in Rochester, Minn., and with it all the baseball, barbecue and beach time one can handle. But for IBM's iSeries Academic Initiative team and the professors it has partnered with, Mother Nature's most precious season brings with it words that have sent adolescent truants running for cover for years.

Summer school.

Fortunately for Big Blue, college professors have a bit more focus when the weather gets sticky. For the eighth straight year, the iSeries Academic Initiative hosted a week-long class in Rochester in late May designed to bring the teachers in charge of 400 curriculums up to speed on the latest innovations to IBM's midrange server line so they can pass that knowledge on to their students in the fall.

The reason for the school is simple. If IBM wants to reach the younger IT talent base, it has to do it through its professors.

"It's very important to make sure that college students are familiar with the iSeries from a hiring standpoint. There's a large demand for those skills … we hear it everywhere we go," said Linda Grigoleit, program manager for the iSeries Academic Initiative. "It's important they learn about our technologies."

The summer school is just one aspect for the Academic Initiative, which was known as the IBM Scholars Program until early 2005. In 1996 Big Blue made a significant investment, refurbishing old equipment and donated it to colleges and universities. But it quickly realized that to keep the pipeline of pros with solid iSeries skills flowing, it needed to go deeper, so IBM began investing in faculty education.

The iSeries' colleagues in the pSeries and zSeries space had instituted similar programs, and the different groups began to work together to streamline the process. They all experienced significant growth since launching, prompting Big Blue to bring them together under the same umbrella, dubbed the IBM Scholars Program, in 2002.

The iSeries Academic Initiative is currently working with as many 50 colleges and universities. One of the students in this year's session was Jim Buck, a programming instructor at Gateway Technical College in Kenosha, Wis. This year's summer school was the third straight for Buck, who gives Big Blue high marks for pushing curriculum innovation in the 400 space.

"IBM really works hard in putting it on every year. The technology changes so rapidly, and they [work] hard on bringing [professors] up to speed on the latest technology. I really enjoy it," Buck said.

Due to a severe lack of funding on the collegiate level for faculty development (Grigoleit estimates schools often invest as little as $250 a year), IBM has had to offer the Academic Initiative program for free, with extreme discounts for hardware and software. But Grigoleit insists that Big Blue's interest in developing iSeries-skilled students is a small price to pay to keep talented youngsters interested in the iSeries.

"A lot of our people that have been brought up on the 'i' are older and retiring soon, so we need to make sure we have that pipeline of learning [open] so that they can fill the open slots and grow into management positions."

Buck agreed, though the program helps him as much as it does his students.

"[Summer school] does two things," Buck said. "It lets me talk to other instructors to see how they are adapting curriculum to teach new tools, plus it's a refresher on where IBM is going with their technology."

Let us know what you think about the story; e-mail: Luke Meredith, News Writer

This story originally appeared on

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