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Business, education partnerships vital to transforming region

By , - Last modified: July 13, 2012 at 10:24 AM

Everyone likes “transformation.” No one likes “change.”

Though they mean the same thing, transformation connotes improvement and strategy — reshaping existing elements into something smarter and more efficient.

Both transformation and change are disruptive, but in business today, disruption is essential. The only way forward is to shake things up.

In downtown Harrisburg, one of the most transformational processes this region has ever seen is starting to reveal the wisdom behind its founders’ strategic plan. In 1997, 150 government, business and community leaders agreed that higher education wasn’t producing the kinds of disruptive minds needed to fuel progress in the region’s STEM industries — science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

This group of 150 people, representing a broad swath of dynamic leaders, decided to create a university that teaches STEM skills by augmenting classroom lessons with practical applications in real-world business settings.

The idea was transformative, and, today, Harrisburg University of Science and Technology has turned its corner of downtown Harrisburg into a bustling center of learning, while the benefits ripple throughout the regional economy.

Top businesspeople in their fields teach and mentor HU students. To graduate, students must engage in meaningful internships and practical projects. Through formal and informal channels, businesses advise on the HU curriculum, assuring that students absorb the latest skills needed in the highly evolving STEM industries that keep America competitive.

This approach helps fill the skills gap that threatens to slow our economy. The Manufacturing Institute tells us that 600,000 STEM jobs nationwide are open, waiting for people with the technological know-how to fill them. HU internalizes that need by partnering with regional and national businesses to infuse the learning atmosphere with the latest technology and knowledge.

For instance, Gannett Fleming recently partnered with HU and Harrisburg Area Community College to create the Central Pennsylvania Geospatial Technology Center. The future of mapping everything from infrastructure to energy exploration to historical sites lies in geographic information system and global position system technologies.

The partnership through Gannett Fleming’s GeoDecisions division — a global leader in geospatial solutions — is giving HU students hands-on experience in project management and practical applications by partnering with business clients as they launch geospatial endeavors.

Another recent innovation — probably the only program like it in Pennsylvania — is HU’s Government Technology Institute. The field of government information technology has become increasingly complex, demanding people skilled in communications, finance, human resources, policymaking, management practices and connecting technology to business needs.

But government IT specialists rarely have a seat at the executive table — a detriment to businesses that engage in government and military contracts. The Government Technology Institute attracted some of the most widely recognized names in the industry — Microsoft, CISCO, Unisys, CA Technologies, and Computer Aid Inc. — as founding partners to advise and help guide curriculum and assure that program graduates who earn the Certified Government Chief Information Officer credential develop the skills to manage the demands of their complex roles.

As a bonus, HU students have opportunities to engage in prototypes and pilot projects that help launch them on their own careers.

HU’s business supporters represent the diversity and solid values of the region’s economic core. They include Cleveland Brothers, The Hershey Co., Select Medical and Memorial Eye Institute. The full list features respected names in health care, technology, insurance, construction, development, financial services, technology, engineering, logistics, media, telecommunications and even the arts.

All these businesses believe in Harrisburg University because HU believes in them. Since the first graduating class in 2007, HU has presented businesses with highly capable employees, equipped with the skills to keep their companies growing and transforming to meet the ever-changing needs of a global, technology-driven economy.

Robert J. Dolan is chairman of the board of trustees at Harrisburg University of Science and Technology as well as chairman of the board at Conrad Siegel Actuaries.

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