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St. Thomas Introduces a New Graduate Program to Develop Mainframe Skills

To help address the growing shortage of skilled mainframe professionals, the University of St. Thomas introduced the Graduate Certificate in Enterprise Computing.

Illustrated purple graduation cap

In response to the increasing demand to fill the growing shortage of skilled mainframe professionals, the University of St. Thomas introduced the Graduate Certificate in Enterprise Computing.

“About six years back, one of my former students, Karl Morris, sent me an email about the potential scarcity of people with a mainframe skill set,” says Dr. Bhabani Misra, Associate Dean for Graduate Programs in Engineering and Software, University of St. Thomas. “We came up with a proposal at that time to create a graduate certificate but we couldn’t follow through.” 

Misra tried proposing the program again last year, and it was approved to begin in Fall 2019. Anyone with a bachelor’s degree and an overall GPA of 2.7 and above can apply for the new Graduate Certificate in Enterprise Computing.

Graduate programs in software like this one are part of the School of Engineering—one of the seven schools at St. Thomas. Approximately 4,000 students are enrolled in St. Thomas graduate programs, and of those 4,000 students, approximately 1,000 attend the School of Engineering. 

Listening to the Industry 

Faculty members like Misra are always listening to the industry to understand necessary growth areas. As Misra developed the Graduate Certificate in Enterprise Computing, he spoke to several individuals within the mainframe community to discuss the new graduate program in software. He attended IBM events like TechU in Atlanta, along with zCouncil meetings, and spoke with IBM customers along with several senior individuals in the mainframe area at Wells Fargo, Ameriprise and U.S. Bank. He spoke with Misty Decker of the IBM Z Academic Initiative about developing the appropriate platform for teaching mainframe classes. He collaborated with Brad Reinboldt, a solutions manager at Viavi Solutions and a former IBMer, during some of the initial sizing conversations with IBM and stakeholders within St. Thomas. KJ Bach brought mainframe coding experience to the table as well.

This feedback from the mainframe community ultimately helped Misra decide what concepts needed to be taught during the program. “After discussing with different individuals, we came up with five courses to cover the z/OS operating system, COBOL programming, and Db2 and CICS transaction management,” he says. “Those are the four required skills that individuals can develop to become useful in the mainframe area.” 

Classes for Working Professionals 

St. Thomas graduate programs are unique because the class schedules are designed for students with part-time or full-time jobs. “Classes are held in the evening or on weekends, and students can take one or two classes at a time depending on their workload or family commitments,” Misra says.

This is because the majority of graduate students at St. Thomas typically fall into one of three categories:
  1. Students who are already working in their desired profession, but want to enhance their careers
  2. Students who are seeking a career change, who were not in the computer or software field, but want to get into the field
  3. Former St. Thomas graduates who come back to take a course or two to update their knowledge as St. Thomas continuously adds new courses to keep up with changes in the technology 
With these three categories in mind, it’s imperative that students with typical nine to five jobs can enroll in classes that work with their schedules, and St. Thomas offers this flexibility.

Facing Challenges Head On 

Although the new program has already been approved, there’s still work to be done. With the program starting up this Fall, Misra hopes to reach out to local mainframe companies in the Twin Cities area to make them aware of this great educational opportunity. 

In addition to attending IBM events like zCouncil and TechU to market the new program, Misra is also working to developing a longer-term marketing strategy to broaden the program’s reach and increase the number of applicants. 
Misra is focused on finding instructors to teach these mainframe courses, too. Because the Graduate Certificate in Enterprise Computing is a graduate program, only individuals with a college degree can teach the courses. While Morris—Misra’s former student who first enlightened him to the growing shortage of mainframe professionals—already agreed to teach a course on z/OS already, Misra is still working to identify other seasoned mainframers who could teach courses in this new program. 

What’s Next

Misra will be closely monitoring the community’s reaction to this new mainframe program. “If we learn of additional needs, St. Thomas can look at developing additional enterprise computing classes,” he says. “Right now, students can transition to a master of science in information technology, but based on how the community responds, another option would be to develop a master’s degree in enterprise computing.” 

Ultimately, the next steps depend entirely on how the community responds, and how many students apply for the program. 

Apply Now! 

If you’re interested in developing mainframe skills, I encourage you to apply for the Graduate Certificate in Enterprise Computing. The deadline to apply for Fall 2019 has been extended to August 15, 2019. For Spring 2020, the application deadline is January 1, 2020, and for Summer 2020, the application deadline is May 1, 2020. 

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