For over a century, the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO) has been committed to excellence and expansion of its disciplinary study, and since 2011 has been recognized by the Carnegie Foundation as a research and doctoral institution.
Among its wide range of study opportunities, UNO currently offers seven doctoral programs: Biomedical Informatics, Criminology & Criminal Justice, Information Technology, Psychology, Public Administration, Exercise Science and Educational Leadership.
This is a series focused on these doctoral degree programs and what they offer both students and the Omaha community through their academic contributions. This feature focuses on UNO’s Information Technology doctoral program, which is overseen by the College of Information Science and Technology.
Since the dawn of civilization, men and women have desired to record and store valuable information. First came the clay and stone tablets; then papyrus, parchment, and a sophisticated system of knots. But these early civilizations couldn’t dream of the exponential explosion that awaited information storage after the arrival of our modern electronic computation technology.
There may not be a more rapidly changing field than the field of Information Technology. By the time you finish reading this story, some new development may have even occurred. As early as twenty years ago, few could foresee our world in which everything is so interconnected. For example, when you think of a phone, does the phone function first come to mind? Or perhaps, instead, do think of your favorite social media app or your favorite mobile game?
Such rapid evolution in technology is now commonplace. We hardly ever stop to think about it. This is the world of Information Technology and UNO is committed to keeping pace.
Program director Dr. Gert-Jan de Vreede leads the Ph.D. in Information Technology program through the College of Information Science & Technology.In 2011, he received the Award for Outstanding Research and Creative Activity (ORCA), the highest research honor in the University of Nebraska system.
“There is so much going on at the moment in the IT domain,” Gert-Jan de Vreede says. “Students that enter the program now will live in a different world when they are done four years later. The number of challenges and opportunities that are there at the moment are just phenomenal.”
The reasons for pursuing a doctoral degree are as diverse as the people who pursue them. While many want a career in academia, others may be interested in working for big tech companies such as Google, Microsoft, Yahoo! or Apple.
De Vreede says in a field with such high demand for the smartest and most talented thinkers, a doctoral degree can get you both.
“It is really a great investment in your career to learn how to do deep, sound scientific research,” he says. “Microsoft has a very well-known research division headquartered in Redmond, WA where many researchers with Ph.D.s in various forms of informatics work. They look at issues such as human-computer interfaces, user experiences, cyber-security, and data mining. So, if you want to pursue a career in research and development, getting a Ph.D. is a critical first step.”
The strength of the IT doctoral program at UNO is its flexibility. Unlike more specialized programs, UNO’s IT degree program is focused on the design, implementation, and use of Information Technology to support individuals, organizations and society as a whole. As such, the nature of the IT program is such that the graduate student has many degrees of freedom to choose and craft a path through the program, which helps prepare students for a wide variety of career options.
For example, students that have an inclination for IT engineering may want to work on programming challenges, like programming robots that interact and work together. This has military applications like surveying the battlefield for mines and other dangers in order to save human lives.
Others may be interested in studying user experiences: how we as individuals interact with technologies – both for everyday routine tasks, but also for high pressure, high-stakes decision making. This area of study has applications in the medical field, like in systems that allow you to manage intensive care units at a distance. As you can imagine, systems like these have very strict and sensitive program requirements.
Also, some students in the IT program prefer to focus on data analytics, data mining and data management. They study how an organization can transform infinite data streams into real insights and decision support – charting out appropriate courses of action, executing appropriate risk management and figuring out where to focus their attention and resources.
“Because the scarcest resource for individuals and organizations is time, we have to continuously make choices – what do we focus our attention on next? IT can help us make those choices faster and more reliably,” de Vreede says.
De Vreede’s personal focus is on collaboration. He says that with the advent of Web 2.0 and social media, we have moved into a more collaborative society. As individuals we can now reach out to countless people to help crack a problem or to solicit input. A number of students have made this new phenomenon – crowdsourcing – the focus of their study.
“Organizations are only beginning to understand how they can marshal this resource,” he explains “We’ve moved into a very collaborative environment and we still don’t know how exactly to govern it. For example, what motivates people to crowdsource? Or how you can bring together different perspectives and then automate to some extent the synthesis of these different insights and extract information from that?”
With information technology still in its infancy, the room for opportunity and growth are seemingly endless. For those interested in joining UNO’s IT doctoral program, more information can be found by clicking here, or by contacting de Vreede at email@example.com.