Wake Forest Techies Put Knowledge to Work

By Roach, Ronald | Black Issues in Higher Education, February 15, 2001 | Go to article overview

Wake Forest Techies Put Knowledge to Work


Roach, Ronald, Black Issues in Higher Education


WINSTON-SALEM, N.C.

Like many college students who study computer information systems, Derrick Thompson knows computer and Internet work experience means a great deal to future employers. As a high school student, the Robeson County, N.C., native developed his programming and Web design skills well enough to secure computer-related work in his hometown.

Since graduating from high school, Thompson, has counted on his admission to Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C. -- a school known for preparing liberal arts and business majors for the technology-driven workplace -- to widen his prospects for landing practical summer- and intern-work experiences.

"It's been opening doors for me," he says.

Nevertheless, it came as a pleasant surprise to Thompson when Wake Forest officials last summer encouraged him to participate in a university-backed, student-managed information technology service organization. Participation in the project promised not only experience with managing and completing complex projects, but as founding members, Thompson and others would be urged to develop the organization in the same way entrepreneurs launch new technology companies.

"The work we're doing is giving us a feel [for] the business world," Thompson says.

Over the past summer and the fall semester, Thompson and four other students cultivated the Knowledge 2 Work program, an information technology services organization that has begun working with regional businesses and nonprofit groups to develop Web sites. The group has completed projects for the Housing Authority of Winston-Salem and several administrative offices at the university.

The founding students have been running Knowledge 2 Work much like a start-up business, operating from a business plan and negotiating contracts with clients. Although Knowledge 2 Work is subsidized by the university like a campus student group, Wake Forest officials believe the business model offers tremendous learning opportunities for student members even though the organization may not evolve into an independent business.

"We're not sure what the end product will be, but we're open to it being an independent nonprofit, an independent business or a student organization," says Nancy Crouch, chief information officer at Wake Forest University.

PROGRAM HELPS LOWER-INCOME STUDENTS

Officials say it's important that Knowledge 2 Work helps students from middle- to lower-income families, who have strong computer skills, earn an hourly wage by performing technical work for clients. Student members are paid $9.50 an hour for their work on projects. The ideal aspiration for the program is that its revenues form the basis of tuition support for its members, according to Crouch.

Knowledge 2 Work evolved from two other Wake Forest student technology programs, Crouch says. …

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