'Aha' Moments with the MSIT Industry Advisory Board

Current Northwestern MSIT students talk with industry leaders about key lessons they've learned during their time in the graduate program.

By Abi Shay

Students in the Master of Science in Information Technology (MSIT) program at Northwestern University had a unique opportunity to speak with industry leaders and experts earlier this month as part of an annual meeting with the program's Industry Advisory Board (IAB).

This was one of many opportunities MSIT students get to interact with industry leaders.

The IAB plays a critical role in mentoring MSIT students and in recommending updates or changes to the curriculum based on current trends members see in their industry CIO and leadership roles. While the IAB is made up of industry innovators, it was the senior members who actually did a bit of learning as they listened to the students talk about their MSIT experiences.

The students — either in their first quarter or second year of the program — were asked to talk about their MSIT "aha" moments; those moments when they were able to draw a connection between what they were learning or experiencing in the classroom and a larger trend or message.

Each of the students who spoke touched on fantastic moments, but I wanted to call out three specific examples because they are pivotal to how we as program leaders view MSIT and its unique structure and content.

Power of the team

One student stood up and discussed how quickly he realized the value that comes with being a part of a cohort. His previous work experience allowed him to have a variety of experiences working with teams, but he was able to observe how valuable that cohort connection could be to someone with little to no experience working on a team.

"It can be difficult to assimilate," the student said, "but it's important to understand the structure and value of working with a team and the responsibility that comes with it."

Learning from one another

Several students acknowledged how valuable they thought Lowell Lindstrom's course on Agile IT Leadership was to their understanding of IT. One of these students explained that as much as she was able to learn about leadership topics like situational leadership, it was more important to understand first hand how much could be learned from the students around her. Again, this speaks to the value of the cohort, but this student reiterated how everyone in the program comes from different backgrounds and different educational and professional experiences, and how each can help educate or inform their classmates in a way that can't be learned in a textbook.

Show you care about more than just IT

Two students made interesting comments on this idea while praising the program's management courses. One student talked about realizing the impact the program's management courses had on her understanding of how companies are organized and function. The second student — who is in the part-time program — talked about the excitement he developed for balance sheets and understanding the ins and outs of the company he worked for. After taking some of the MSIT program's management courses, this student asked — and was allowed — to sit in on a collection of senior leadership meetings at his company.

The conversations were fascinating, he said, but what was more significant for him was what he did without saying a word. His mere request to sit in on the meeting showed the company leaders that he was more than just "someone who works in IT." He was someone who cared about the business, including how it operated and how it could get even better.

That last example reiterates why the MSIT program was designed to be a combination of business management and technical expertise.

It's always great to see current students and IAB members connect and interact dynamically with one another, and it's an idea we reinforce throughout the year. The students are able to gain so much understanding from the members who have made it in the industry, and the IAB members are able to better understand the experience MSIT students are having — and how they can work together to make the program and its offerings even stronger and even more viable in today's evolving marketplace.