The summer internship is the traditional way that university students get work experience. But at Villanova University, students studying for finance, business and nursing degrees can also learn about the real world through class work that incorporates the same software applications used in those professions.
While most business schools offer course work that covers IT, classroom experience with applications they will encounter on the job is less common, says Mike Zastrocky, vice president of academic strategies at Gartner. It may be even rarer in disciplines such as nursing where use of IT is relatively new, says Stephen Fugale, Villanova’s CIO.
In January, Villanova opened its Applied Finance Lab where finance and MBA students are able to test the theories they are learning by analyzing real-time market data and simulating investment and trading transactions. “We try to replicate all the technologies a trader, broker and investment banker would have access to,” says Fugale.
The finance lab has four pods, each with access to trading systems and analytic tools such as Bloomberg, Compustat and Reuters.
Fugale is finalizing plans with the Philadelphia Stock Exchange to connect to the exchange’s back-end trading and reconciliation systems, enabling students to see the entire lifecycle of a trade—from researching it to clearing it and monitoring a portfolio.
Meanwhile, students in majors such as marketing, finance, operations and management are being schooled in CRM and ERP. Villanova runs an SAP system, which professors and system experts demonstrate to students to give them a greater understanding of how such systems operate in companies. Marketing and operations students get hands-on exposure to SAP as part of their course work.
Gartner’s Zastrocky says few programs such as Villanova’s exist because there aren’t many professors, at least in business schools, who have used the applications themselves.
In the nursing school, students learn several applications that they will use in hospitals during internships or after graduation. For instance, PDAs used in the program run clinical applications that, among other purposes, teach undergrads about drug databases.
Fugale notes that the point is to offer students a way to understand the critical role IT plays in their future profession. “It’s all about how we can differentiate our students, and how we can best prepare them,” he says.