The IBM Academic Initiative has placed a stronger focus on bringing its open standards and open source resources to community colleges.  The Academic Initiative is a global membership organization available to higher education faculty members and research professionals at accredited institutions. It provides members with access to IBM software and courseware materials for teaching, learning and non-commercial research.  Academic Initiative members can download full-version IBM software and courseware and remotely access hardware systems and online technical training, all at no charge. Schools then incorporate whatever suits their capabilities and desires into their computer science and/or information technology courses and programs, with the goal of enabling students to meet a demand for IT workers with IBM skills.

The Academic Initiative has been utilized primarily by four-year colleges and universities since it launched in early 2004. “We started to focus more on providing this information to community colleges about one year ago,” said Richard McKean, client executive for the initiative.

An Overwhelming Amount of Resources

Overall, the Academic Initiative is comprised of a seemingly overwhelming amount of resources for community colleges to utilize, featuring full versions of hundreds of IBM software products, system access, and tools; a relatively large courseware repository; and numerous learning guides, called “knowledge paths.”  “Most people are very surprised about the amount of materials we provide, and their first reaction is ‘wow, we can get all of this for free,’” McKean explained.

McKean advises community college faculty members and department administrators to start out by integrating relatively easy-to-digest modules inside their fundamental computer science and IT courses taken from the initiative’s introductory courseware for teaching IBM skills in such areas as business intelligence, cloud computing, cybersecurity, databases, project management, IT tools, web-based applications and enterprise systems. One of these areas growing in popularity, for instance, is in cloud computing.

Pilot Program at Cedar Valley Community College

This is the kind of implementation currently happening through an interesting Academic Initiative pilot at Cedar Valley Community College, part of the Dallas County Community College System, located in Lancaster, Texas, and conveniently close to an IBM Innovation Center in Dallas.

“Cedar Valley has been looking at four areas: cloud computing; project management; databases; and AIX, which is one of our operating systems,” McKean said. “They are deploying these in two ways: in existing courses and creating a full curriculum that would go toward an IBM certification.”

“We are looking at the IBM curricula in each of those areas and abstracting from it what is applicable to our students and how it can all be aligned to the courses we are currently teaching,” said Reuben Johnson,  executive dean of Business & Information Technology at Cedar Valley Community College. Johnson added that IBM was interested in building a pipeline for not only teaching students enrolled in courses about IBM products and technologies offered by the Business & Information Technology Department, but also for setting up a training and testing site at the Center at Cedar Valley, which is an economic development, training and small business development facility run by the college.  One of the end goals for all of this activity is to eventually create a template in the not-too-distant future for a complete IBM-oriented curriculum that can be shared with other community colleges across the country.

Tony Mba, adjunct faculty member at Cedar Valley, is helping to spearhead the pilot, along with other team members. He has already utilized elements from both the cloud computing and database courseware in an Introduction to Computer Science course and within a course that covers databases.

The courseware has given Mba the ability to both lecture students on the latest technologies and take them directly to an IBM website where they can work in a live, hands-on modality. “We are able to access IBM hardware and software as well as course modules,” Mba explained. “Students can dial in from our classroom or from wherever they have Internet access. Having access to IBM equipment saves the college money because we don’t have to buy new machines. That alone is a tremendous service in itself.”

Good Jobs on the Horizon

In the meantime, McKean pointed to data from that he uses in presentations to community college educators (see  to show the kind of jobs and annual salaries, ranging from $95,000 to $105,000 in a wide variety of areas, that are available to workers who have strong IBM skills.  He added that there are three primary reasons why the Academic Initiative is good for both IBM and, in general, the American workforce: 1) Companies that run IBM software and products need to be assured that qualified people will be around to fill needed positions. 2) There is a skills gap for these jobs that results in companies hiring workers offshore, so “it makes sense for everyone if we could educate our workforce here in the U.S. to fill those jobs.” 3) If students are exposed to IBM software in the college environment, when they get out of college and become a decision-maker, they are going to base their buying decisions on what they know.