Last night I once again had the privilege of serving on the judges panel for final projects of the Capstone program at George Mason University. I serve as a member of the Industry Advisory Board for their Applied Information Technology program and everytime I attend anything associated with this program I walk away impressed. I am still amazed that more schools around the country have not adopted this type of program.
The goal of the program is to teach students the skills that they need to be able to apply their technical skills on a job site after graduation. These are things that most students will not learn until they are already in their first job and learn them the hard way. These are some skills most people think are understood or should not need to be taught but as many of us in business can attest are not. Things like working on a team, presentation skills, the elevator speech, etc. I know which students are a part of the Capstone program the minute I walk into the building…they are the ones wearing shirts and ties as opposed to ripped T shirts and jeans. They are the students that show up prepared and on time to the class.
Last night was the night they got to present their final projects to the panel. The students break into teams and work with a local business to identify challenges that business is faced with and then come up with ways to improve that business through the use of IT. They work with this business all semester and then present their findings on final project night. The panel, 3 or 4 individuals with a wide variety of business backgrounds including sometimes retired colonels or generals, then grill the teams with questions about their findings. Sometimes the questions are brutally honest and the teams are dealt hard lessons about their projects. One group in particular last night was dealt a hard dose of reality that the company they were trying to help needed much more than IT to help them survive. This was a company that is potentially weeks away from going out of business. What would implementing an Inventory Management System do for them? We could see the disappointment in their faces as this hit them. What will they use for their project next semester now? (semester 2 is when they actually implement their findings from semester 1). These 5 kids (I often have to remind myself that yes these are still just kids) impressed me to no end. When the presentation ended I had an idea for them for a new project that they could work on with my company. We sat around an extra half hour after class ended with the Dean of the school of engineering and this group and we discussed a plan of attack to get these guys back in the game. Their energy immediately picked back up and they were excited to get back on the horse and start working again. As I walked in my door last night at 11PM after a long day of work followed by these presentations I was tired sure…but those 5 students reminded me why I volunteer for that program. Those students are the future employees, team leads, and who knows…maybe even business owners. Knowing that they appreciate the time and are interested in learning makes the late nights totally worth it. As I sat drinking my coffee this morning I was thinking about last night and all I keep thinking about is what a powerful lesson for these students. Anyone that does anything in business knows that at some point you are going to be dealt a disappointing message about your project, your job, your company, or something else. How you react and deal with this is what defines you. These guys dealt with their harsh message like true professionals.