IT Degree Program Popular with Students

Posted: December 6, 2006 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By David Driver

Less than five years since it began, the Bachelor of Science in Information Technology (BSIT) degree program in the Volgenau School of Information Technology and Engineering has become a popular field of study at George Mason.

In fall 2002, the first semester the program was offered, there were 270 IT majors. This semester, the full-time enrollment is 535, and the part-time enrollment is 242, for a total enrollment of 777. There were 194 degrees conferred in the 2005-06 academic year, and a similar number is expected this year.

The degree program prepares students for careers in web site design and administration, database administration, network and security engineering, software testing and technical writing. Graduates may seek master’s degrees in telecommunications, information security assurance, information systems or e-commerce.

With the program, “we are meeting the needs of students we were not meeting before,” says Anne Marchant, associate professor, Department of Applied Information Technology.

Marchant knows of students who were struggling in other majors who became dean’s list students after joining the program. “In IT, they are excelling,” she says.

Marchant said proximity to Northern Virginia’s technology corridor is one key to the success of the program.

“The ability for students to get internships in this area is the most valuable thing,” says Marchant. “About 80 percent of our students are working in the field, at least part-time.”

Because of this, BSIT offers evening and early morning classes to accommodate working students’ schedules.

Marchant says that a benefit of having students with full-time jobs is that they can solve real IT problems at their companies. Students also take a senior capstone course in which they work in teams for two semesters on real IT projects for companies and nonprofits.

“We are one of the few places in the country where students can study information security as undergraduates at a four-year program,” Marchant adds.

Chris Pylypko
Chris Pylypko, junior in the BSIT program

Chris Pylypko is a junior IT major who worked for about two years for Network Solutions in Herndon, Va., before he enrolled as a freshman at George Mason. He now works about 10 hours a week doing web development for a technology company in Sterling, Va. He was a computer science major when he first came to Mason.

“When I heard they were starting an IT program, I decided to go with it. I haven’t looked back,” says Pylypko. “I don’t know too many schools that offer information technology programs.”

This semester, Pylypko has been part of the IT 353 Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) project through a class taught by Marchant. Pylypko was in the class’ Post Processing I group, which was in charge of creating an aerial map of a battlefield and processing a mosaic of images for a battlefield map. For their assignment, they used Photoshop and Gimp, a freeware graphics design package.

According to Marchant, photos were taken by a webcam during flights of a UAV, or drone, which is a remotely-piloted aircraft used in reconnaissance missions. The photos were downloaded after the flights and displayed on the project’s web site. The project used Global Positioning System (GPS) telemetry to assign photographs to grids, explains Marchant.

The project made two flights: one in the parking lot in front of Discovery Hall on the Prince William Campus, and the other at Camp Snyder in Haymarket, Va.

“The first flight in the parking lot was our test flight and helped us to work out some of the bugs that we had in our system,” says Marchant. “The second and very successful flight at Camp Snyder ended up going very smoothly, and this flight allowed us to meet our mission goals. We successfully acquired the flight video, GPS data and images that allowed us to produce a composite map and flight path.”

IT graduates possess strong “soft” skills in oral communication, written communication, hypertext communication and human-computer interaction principles, as well as “durable” knowledge skills such as underlying concepts and technical terminology language. And Marchant stresses that Mason graduates are problem solvers and team players.

Marchant says the program does a good job of attracting minorities and international students. While the majority of IT majors are male, she hopes the program can do a better job of enrolling women as they learn about the many exciting career options IT has to offer.

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