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03/15/2006 - WSU Spokane Offers Bachelor of Science in Informatics

WSU Spokane has recently instituted a bachelor of science in informatics program. The BS in Informatics is a degree completion program, meaning that students will enter the program at the junior level after having completed their first two years of college. The WSU Informatics program is being taught only at the Spokane Riverpoint Campus, so students may come from the WSU Pullman campus, community colleges or other institutions.

According to Dr. Paul Schimpf, program coordinator, the informatics curriculum is oriented midway between computer science (CS) and management information systems (MIS). Computer science degrees typically focus on the technical and theoretical aspects of Computer Science, whereas MIS programs focus on the business applications of database systems, without much content in software design or data analysis.

The Informatics program at WSU Spokane falls somewhere between these two extremes. It combines course work in software and database development with accounting, finance, marketing and other business courses. It also requires course work in statistical analysis and optimization theory. The Informatics graduate will understand how to build effective systems to manage information, and will also know how to use that information for effective decision making.

The corporate world desperately needs graduates with such skills, according to Schimpf. He cites as an example a project scrapped by the FBI in 2005 after spending nearly $170 million on the project. The FBI project was to build a virtual case file, but it was eventually abandoned due to cost overruns without producing any usable code. This was a massive software development failure.

According to Schimpf, large software development projects such as this must proceed with a clear specification of requirements and should be managed by people who understand both the technical issues and the userís domain.

The software development community has long understood that system requirements must be obtained from the end users. One way to accomplish this is to have the system developers work directly with end users to work out detailed requirements, and to iterate example uses of the system with prototypes of the user interfaces. The FBI project did, in fact, take such an approach, but the effort failed. In Schimpfís opinion, based on a study reported by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), this failure was due primarily to inadequate management oversight. As the systemís end users were exposed to user interfaces, new ideas for operational requirements surfaced. In some cases, new features could be added with minimal or modest investment in software development. In other cases, new features required fundamental changes in the system architecture, which would caused a significant amount of existing code to be scrapped, setting the project back many months in development time. The changes were not properly managed, and far too many of the fundamental change type were allowed.

A project manager savvy in the capabilities of technology, the implications of requirement changes, and the priorities of the users is required in order to ensure that such projects are launched with an architecture that is maximally robust to refinement, and to manage the development within budget. Skills in both computer science and the application domain are vital. Precisely this combination of skills has been designed into the WSU Informatics program, along with an application domain tailored for today's corporate world.

WSU Informatics graduates will be the kind of managers that the FBI didnít have. The curriculum does not skimp on technical rigor. Graduates will know how to develop software systems and manage information Ė how to collect it, and what to do with it.

The informatics program is accepting students at this time and has recently established an agreement with SFCC to certify students prior to their transfer to WSU Spokane. Certification is based on overall grade point average and performance in designated courses: Differential Calculus or Mathematical Analysis, Linear Algebra or Finite Math, Introduction to Statistics, Introduction to Economics, Introduction to Accounting, and Introduction to Programming. Certified students are guaranteed a place in the program.

There is a scholarship opportunity. The Wendell J Satre Scholarship for Informatics is available at $3,000 per student. For more information, contact Paul Schimpf, PhD (509) 358-7937 or e-mail schimpf@wsu.edu. Or contact student services located in the WSU Spokane Health Sciences Building on the Riverpoint Campus.

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