In a nod to experiential learning, students enrolled in the executive master of science in technology management program at Columbia University in New York City are learning how to speak the language of business firsthand from some of corporate America's leading IT executives. As part of its two-year, part-time masters program, students are assigned C-level mentors, often CIOs of major corporations, who offer one-on-one guidance throughout their studies. "The program is designed for people in the technology industry with at least five years of experience who want to get to the executive level of their companies," says Art Langer, associate director of Columbia's School of Continuing Education.
Students meet their mentorswho hail from such companies as Altria Group Inc., Tyco International Ltd. and Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide, among others a minimum of one hour per month at their offices and discuss ongoing projects at their jobs. "We have projects that include IT governance, biotechnology inventions, product development and so on," Langer says.
Beatrice Leon, CIO of Pernod Ricard USA, a subsidiary of the Paris-based wines and spirits firm, has been mentoring continuing education students through the program for two years now. She's currently mentoring a project manager at IBM Corp. on how to define and attain goals in a software development project, and previously mentored a Credit Suisse Group employee on how to streamline the bank's complex systems. "The idea is to help them learn how to defend their IT projects to the business side," says Leon.
Students present their projects to a series of panels made up of Columbia faculty and executive mentors. "In the course of their studies, students defend their projects against nine people, in addition to their mentor," Langer says. "We had our first round recently, and all 26 successfully defended."
Saturday workshops composed of mentors and mentees help students build momentum for their initiatives and work on presentation skills and public speaking. "Certainly for any executive, it's important to articulate. That's the largest criticism of CIOs today. So there is a tremendous focus on those areas because it's important to be able to respond to questions that people don't typically expect from executives," Langer says. "The student gets this wonderful one-on-one relationshipand real-world advice." And the mentees aren't the only beneficiaries of the program. "I will keep doing it because it's very rewarding to me," says Leon. "It keeps me open-minded."