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The Next Wave of Business Students Will Be “Renaissance Technologists”

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The Next Wave of Business and Finance Students Will Be “Renaissance Technologists”

Data-driven environments require business students to be trained on the latest technology.

posted March 22, 2013

The Hanlon Financial Systems Lab, opened in April 2012 at the Stevens Institute of Technology, “looks like a trading floor you’d see at Goldman Sachs or the New York Stock Exchange,” says George Calhoun, director of the Wesley J. Howe School of Technology Management’s quantitative finance program.

The lab boasts 30 Hewlett Packard workstations, 12 of them Bloomberg terminals, as well as access to a supercomputer that can crunch massive amounts of data at a time. Like other business schools throughout the country, Stevens is changing its curriculum and ramping up its technology to prepare students for the number crunching that is now a critical part of finance, marketing and other business-focused fields.

“Twenty-five years ago, even 10 to 15 years ago, finance was still a fairly nontechnical field,” Calhoun says. “Now, finance is a high-tech environment, just as much as manufacturing is, and the academic world hasn’t really caught up to that yet.”

Now, finance is a high-tech environment, just as much as manufacturing is, and the academic world hasn’t really caught up to that yet.

“This next wave of business employees needs to be the renaissance technologist,” says Andrew Wasser, associate dean of The Heinz College’s School of Information Systems and Management at Carnegie Mellon University. “You need to be the person who understands the business drivers and also understands enough of the technology and is adept at the data analytics.”

Adapting Instruction

Instruction in the technology that now forms the backbone of American business means classroom and instructional technology needs an update as well. At Principia College in Elsah, Ill., a $500,000 gift from alumni classes is being used to create its 21st Century Classroom. Features include three mobile carts with touch-interactive whiteboards, and software that allows students to work together from their own laptops, without huddling around a single screen. The idea is “to allow faculty and students to experience and use some of the latest technology available for education,” says Academic Technology Director Christian Borja, who created and manages the room. The room is also equipped with video cameras, ClearOne audio equipment and Cisco video-conferencing infrastructure, allowing professors from anywhere in the world to interact remotely with students in the classroom.

Dale Matheny, an assistant professor of business administration at Principia, says that using the classroom has forced changes in his teaching style: “Normal classrooms are geared toward lecture and those kind of older approaches.” Today, “everything is in the cloud, everything is networked. You can use laptops, and you can use a curser on the laptop, and it goes immediately on the board.”

Equipment and furniture for the room cost about $420,000, Borja says, and the remaining money was placed in an endowment for future upgrades. The school is on a six-year plan to upgrade all of its classrooms.

Give Them What They Want

In Hoboken, N.J., across the Hudson River from Wall Street, Stevens’s Howe School asked companies a few years ago just what skills they wanted to see in job seekers. Subsequently, the Howe School created a quantitative finance program that requires seven math classes and seven computer science classes.

“The abundance of data available to industry through the Internet, social networks, sensor networks and financial-transaction systems will transform business decisions,” Stevens’s dean, Gregory Prastacos, says. “We are introducing programs, courses and technologies that are specifically data-focused and prepare our students in handling the challenges in the new data-driven environment.”

The abundance of data available to industry through the Internet, social networks, sensor networks and financial-transaction systems will transform business decisions.

Increases in technology spending “have not been dramatic, because we have received generous support from industry,” Prastacos says

David Dodd, hired in July 2012 as chief information officer and vice president for information technology, says the Hanlon lab is just part of a “necessary and ambitious” technology overhaul taking place throughout the entire school. “Stevens is an excellent school, but the technology here really wasn’t taken care of as well as it should have been,” he says. To remedy that, “the school is making a significant investment in IT,” with a focus on connecting students who already have their own smartphones, laptops, tablets and other devices.

“We are very much a school on the rise,” Dodd says. “We’re using technology as a transformative agent to seriously improve teaching and learning.”

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