SLU program speeds up process for IT degrees

Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond will introduce a new program that will get students out in the workforce a year earlier to better meet the increasing regional demand for computer science and information technology professionals.

The Accelerated Computing Engagement program, which will be launched in the fall 2014 semester, will allow students to earn a bachelor’s degree in information technology in a three-year period. As part of the program, students will have an internship that will give them real-world experience.

So far, a dozen Baton Rouge and New Orleans businesses are participating in the internship program, including such well-known employers as Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana, Amedisys, GE Capital and Ameritas Technologies.

Sebastian van Delden, head of Southeastern’s department of computer science and industrial technology, said the program came out of internal discussions in the department. To van Delden’s knowledge, Southeastern is the only college offering an accelerated degree program in information technology.

“As part of our research leading up to this, we surveyed maybe 150 students,” van Delden said. “The response was overwhelmingly positive.”

The number of businesses that are participating with internship spots continues to grow. “Several of the companies signed on right away, while a few more have layers to go through,” van Delden said.

IBM, which is looking to hire 800 employee for its downtown Baton Rouge service center by 2016, has expressed interest in the program but has not agreed yet to provide internships, he said.

The program is intended for high-achieving students. To be eligible for ACE, applicants must have a minimum ACT score of 24 and two letters of recommendation from teachers. The participants will be eligible to participate in priority class scheduling and will be advised by a special faculty coordinator.

Ghassan Alkadi, a Southeastern computer science professor who is serving as coordinator, said the coursework will have a strong focus on software engineering, algorithm development and programming-intensive classes. This means graduates will have a mix of a theoretical background with hands-on skills.

“Our primary focus is to produce graduates who can enter a rewarding career with an undergraduate degree and be productive from day one,” said John Burris, an assistant computer science professor.

Calvin Fabre, CEO of Envoc, a software development firm with offices in Baton Rouge and Hammond, said the ACE program “is a perfect marriage between an aggressive curriculum and the IT overachiever” that will produce “skilled craftsmen ready to change the lives of others.” Envoc will participate in the internship program, Fabre said.