Capstone 2013

This week marks one of my favorite weeks of the year professionally. It is the week where the students in the Applied IT program at George Mason present their final projects for the Capstone Program. I have been a member of the Industry Advisory Board now for over 3 years and one of the ways I help out is by sitting on the judges panel for their final projects.

The goal of the program is to teach students the skills they need to be successful in the work environment. The Capstone Class specifically places the students into teams who then go off and work with real businesses to identify areas in which Information technology can improve the business. The team operates as consultants for the business by learning about the business and identifying some potential areas for improvement in the 492 class. Then in the 493 class they develop working prototypes of their solutions and present them to the judges.

It is always impressive to me to see the ideas the students come up with and the quality solutions that can be developed over the course of just months. More impressive to me though is how interested the class is in learning from the feedback they get from the judges and how professional they act towards their the judges, their clients, their professors and most importantly their peers.

Often times owning a business can be a very frustrating endeavor with government shutdowns, budget cuts and other items that have a way of sucking the energy and motivation out of me. Things like the Capstone program serve as a means to re-energize me professionally and remind me that I really do love what I do. The energy and excitement the students show during this week is contagious and for that reason I am excited to be volunteering this week.


My Night at GMU

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.