PRISM Magazine - Exploring the future of engineering education
briefings - curriculum

Illustration by Dave Cutler, c/o theispotTeaching E-Commerce

What's the hot new academic specialty on campus this year? E-commerce. Universities across the country are introducing new courses and programs to teach students how to conduct business in the new era of online retailing.

Most recently, two schools, Carnegie Mellon University and Claremont Graduate University, announced new master's degree programs in electronic commerce beginning this fall. Many of the courses are being offered through university business schools, which tend to have dynamic, market-driven curricula. Though programs vary from school to school, most offer courses in conducting online commerce, technological infrastructure, privacy protection, and Web design.

The courses examine "the issues of what business leaders need to understand about e-commerce in order to stay competitive in the 'new economy,'" says Amy Shuen, a visiting professor at the Haas School of Business at the University of California at Berkeley.

So far, students are lining up for courses like aficionados flocking to eBay for online Beanie Baby auctions. Twenty percent of the MBA students at Vanderbilt University's Owen Graduate School of Management are specializing in e-commerce, taking at least four courses in the subject over two years.

Why? Because it's a dynamic, expanding field that is changing how people do business. Or, as Haas Business School professor Arturo Perez-Reyes put it, electronic commerce is "the single greatest change to business since the invention of money."

In dollar terms, the impact has been significant. Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University estimate that online retail sales will reach $22 billion this year, up from $7 billion in 1998. And business-to-business Internet sales are expected to skyrocket to $110 billion in 1999, up from $42 billion last year.

Given those figures, it's understandable that many of the programs are being implemented at the behest—and with the financial backing—of companies like IBM and Sun Microsystems. Those and other firms are looking for cyber-savvy Internet executives to help them venture forward on-line.

Undergraduate business students at UC Berkeley, for example, are starting up their own Internet businesses with help from a team from IBM. The firm chipped in $40,000 worth of hardware, software, and training to help launch undergraduates' new business ideas.

In a different kind of collaboration, Ernst & Young teamed up with the University of Southern California's business school in Los Angeles to offer similar courses and programs. In addition, industry professionals give guest lectures on virtual retailing and often mentor students.

The challenge, though, is to keep the course material up to speed and relevant in a rapidly changing field. UC Berkeley's Arie Segev says that "e-commerce is evolving at such a lightning pace that it makes even veteran information technology professionals feel dizzy and business professionals feel clueless."

Those executives ought to head back to school this fall—or maybe try bidding online for Beanie Babies.

Minorities Rising?

 In spite of the end of affirmative action programs at some universities, minority enrollment at the nation's engineering schools is rising.

For the second year in a row, the number of African-American, Latino, and American Indian freshman engineering students has increased. That's according to recently released data from the National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering, which has been tracking the numbers since 1993.

For the 1998-99 academic year, minority freshmen enrollment grew by 5.1 percent from the previous year—attributed mainly to the 8.4 percent rise in the number of African-American engineering students.

But cautious optimism is in order, says NACME President George Campbell, Jr. "Because freshmen enrollment was also up among non-minorities in 1998, the minority share of the incoming class is actually lower than last year," Campbell said. Minority students now represent only 15.6 percent of the entering class, down from 15.7 percent.

Corporate Giving Update

Pittsburgh businessman Peter C. Rossin recently donated $25 million to Lehigh University's engineering school to enable his alma mater to continue its leadership role in re-defining engineering education. In recognition of Rossin's gift, Lehigh has named its college of engineering the P.C. Rossin College of Engineering and Applied Science.

Rossin, who made his fortune by starting his own titanium metals company, credits his success to hard work and his education at the university. "Lehigh taught me to understand technology and people. Now my wife Ada and I would like to give back to the next generation of Lehigh students and help ensure that they and the university continue to represent the very best in engineering education."

Recent donations to other engineering programs include the following:

  • The Ford Motor Company gave $4.75 million to Texas A & M University for new academic initiatives in the engineering and business fields.
  • A $5 million grant from the Texas Instruments Foundation and the family of former CEO, Jerry Junkins, will support construction of a new electrical engineering building at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.
  • MCI Worldcom donated $1 million in computer equipment to the University of Virginia for a new, hands-on course in Internet engineering.


navigation bar