Leo Irakliotis doesn’t just want to develop academics and researchers. The newly appointed dean of Nova Southeastern University’s Graduate School of Computer and Information Sciences also wants tech-savvy business people who can talk the talk of the corporate world.
Irakliotis was named the Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.-based university’s computer program chief on Jan. 25 after 13 years as a professor at the University of Chicago, where his business acumen and community connections helped grow the school’s Computer Science Professional Program by 20 percent annually.
Academic immersion remains a central part of a computer science education, he said, but campus IT decision makers should help students develop the communication skills they’ll need to explain complicated IT concepts in simple terms—and network with the companies in search of young computer pros.
“We want them to be real professionals out there in the real world,” said Irakliotis, a computer engineering research assistant at Colorado State University before moving to Chicago. “We haven’t thought about that in our field as much as we should.”
Computer science schools can develop reputations as hubs for up-and-coming technology experts if their students demonstrate business know-how once they graduate and start corporate jobs, Irakliotis said.
“There’s a frustration in the real world that higher education doesn’t get it when it comes to information technology,” he said. “We often don’t understand the needs and requirements for those jobs. … We think training programmers is all that it takes, but as a programmer you need to be able to communicate with people who don’t understand technology. You can’t explain in scientific theory, but rather in business terms, why certain things are possible.”
In his new post at Nova Southeastern—a private research university with 28,000 students—Irakliotis said he hopes to direct graduates to computer fields that are in high demand, such as data mining or in-depth statistical analysis.
But first, he said, students should learn to communicate with their co-workers and bosses—not academics who speak the language of computer science.
“I’ve seen plenty of super-smart people who can’t write a memo to save their lives,” he said. “They have a Ph.D. and they can’t communicate at all.”
Irakliotis, 42, was born in Greece and moved to the U.S. in 1990 to pursue his master’s degree in physics at Miami University of Ohio. He earned his Ph.D. in electrical and computer engineering at Colorado State and worked as a teaching assistant at Miami University.
Irakliotis’s business experience includes two years with MCI, where he developed web-based teleconferencing systems, managed a $5 million initiative that focused on internet-based education services, and headed a technical internship program for college students.
Computer science graduates have gravitated to data mining in recent years as lawmakers have called for more research into how statistics can shape public policy, he said.
President Obama has repeatedly supported using data to make the country’s health-care system more efficient. Crunching numbers on health insurance claims, treatments, and patient needs can help hospitals and legislators target rising health-care costs, Irakliotis said.
“We have an administration that understands the importance of [data mining],” he said, adding that the Chicago school system used data to determine school closures during the H1N1 flu outbreak. “And that’s exciting for [students] and the people who teach them.”
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