OMAHA – This weekly program features educators from across the University of Nebraska system.
"Friday Faculty Focus with Brandon McDermott” airs each Friday at 7 a.m. and noon on all-classical 90.7 KVNO, a broadcast service of the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO).
On Friday, Oct. 28, McDermott interviewed Peter Wolcott, department chair in UNO's College of Information Science & Technology about the growth of the College, staying current on technology trends, and the importance of internships.
Listen to their conversation here, or read the transcript below:
Brandon: Dr. Peter Wolcott, thanks for joining me.
Dr. Wolcott: It's a pleasure to be here.
Brandon: Working in the College of Information Science and Technology since its inception, you've seen a lot of changes. Can you talk about those changes, the growth of the college, and what it means to UNO?
Dr. Wolcott: The College was originally created out of a recognition that the University of Nebraska at Omaha needed to do something different from what it had been doing in the areas of engineering and technology. In the area of technology in particular, the so-called Suttle Commission -named after its chair Jim Suttle, later Mayor of Omaha- the Suttle Commission recommended that a new college be created that would join together the technology-oriented departments on campus and create a new college and that was done in 1996.
Brandon: I spoke to a couple students who had taken classes with you and one interesting note they both said was ‘He doesn't assign frivolous, pointless, busywork. You learn something new with every single assignment.’ Can you talk about what you expect from your students in your classes and how you might differ from other professors?
Dr. Wolcott: I’m glad to hear them say that. Because for my students, that is a very conscious decision on my part, that I am not afraid of asking my students to do a lot of work, to put in a lot of hours, but I really do recognize that the only way that they're willing to do that is if that time is well spent. I do make sure that every assignment has a purpose, has a skill or a concept that they're trying to master. I do try to make sure that the skills that students acquire in my class are representative of the skills that they would be applying in the workplace and when I hear students saying ‘I really nailed that interview because of the skills that I learned in your class.’ That's the ultimate confirmation that we're doing the right thing. What do I do that is different from my colleagues? I would hope very little, actually. I would hope that all of my colleagues would be mindful of the impact on their students. I do always try to see what the class is like from the student perspective. If I were in their seats, would I view the time well spen? And I never am confident that I've really nailed that, however, I think this is a quality that I hope I never get rid of. And that's a perpetual element of discontent in the quality of my class. That there's always something that I could be doing better, always something I could be doing a little differently. Let me try this out. Let me try that out. If it works, great. If it doesn't work, I pitch it and move on.
Brandon: How do you make sure students are equipped for success - say in the Info Technology for Development classes, to ensure that they're able to flourish as graduates of the program?
Dr. Wolcott: There are things that we - that I- do on an individual faculty member level and then there are things that we do at an institutional level, within the College, within the department. One of the things that I try to do on the individual level is I try to just continue my own professional development through attendance at maybe it's conferences, maybe it’s webinars, maybe it's a user group meeting. I do try to mix with professionals in the community who have their fingers right on the pulse of what the community needs are.
Brandon: You brought up something interesting in one your previous responses about internships. How important are internships for students in the Information Science & Technology program and what do these internships offer students?
Dr. Wolcott: I think internships are extremely valuable. They provide that connection, that opportunity to connect what they're learning in the classroom with what is going on in the real world. So they can provide a very rich learning environment within the classroom. Of course we have some classes- some parts of our classes - that do engage students in community projects but they tend to be ‘bite sized.’ I would say for the most part, they're in a bit of a controlled environment, because we're trying to teach certain fundamental skills. But, then at some point students do need to bridge into the real world, which can get a lot messier, with many more moving parts, and that's one of the things that internships can provide our students. One of the reasons that organizations are very interested in internships is because it gives them an opportunity to see our students up-close over a period of time. You get a lot better insight into who the student is and what they can do for you, than if you just sit down and interview them for a couple of hours in an afternoon. The internships then become a way in which students can get their foot in the door and demonstrate what they're capable of and many times those turn into full time jobs at the end of their course of study.
Brandon: Dr. Peter Wolcott, thanks again for joining me.
Dr. Wolcott: Thank you for having me.
Faculty Focus is taking a one week hiatus, but will return Friday, Nov. 11, with a conversation with the University of Nebraska Medical Center's Nancy Waltman.
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