IT education: Changing by degrees

Federal 100 award winner Robert Childs is changing the way government technology leaders learn and work

As told to Amber Corrin

As chancellor of the National Defense University’s Information Resources Management College, Robert Childs is helping modernize the way government leaders learn, collaborate and work. He has positioned the iCollege as a central hub of cyber education, and this summer, it will confer its first master’s degrees in government information leadership. Certificate programs are under way in information assurance, enterprise architecture and CIO skills. The courses Childs has helped develop are more than primers on today’s hot topics — they represent a fundamental change in military and government education.

After the Office of the Secretary of Defense directed us to take a look at potential cyber and chief technology officer training curricula, we pulled together a focus group of key stakeholders to get feedback. We’ve been working with organizations like the federal CIO Council, the Defense Department and Defense Information Systems Agency CIOs, National Security Agency, Army CIO, Army Cyber Command, Homeland Security Department, Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the White House cyber office, and a number [of people] from the private sector and foreign countries as well.

There is a clear strategy we employ to [develop a] curriculum: Bring these people in for their input, have them define it on a macro level, put it together and then run it back by them to see if we have hit the target.

Our leadership is constantly involved in finding out what program needs are out there in the workforce, and that’s what really led us to the government information leadership master’s degree program. These are the people who go through the program and pick up not just competencies of managing a network enterprise but also what technologies are used; how you manage the process; finding new, innovative techniques and strategies that are out there. That’s the real importance of the master’s degree — it pulls everything together.

The pilot group’s first graduates will finish in June; they’re extremely excited. They get more excited about it than I do, and I get pretty excited. We also talk to the people in their agencies, both colleagues and supervisors, and we get the same response everywhere — that the program is having a dramatic impact.

We examine federal policy and the direction it’s moving. We pay attention to laws Congress is looking at. We tie into the international community, the federal community and the private-sector community. We’re bringing in best practices all the time. We’re redesigning courses all the time.

For a long time, agencies have wanted a shift. A master’s degree can signify education rather than training. Granting this master’s degree in government information leadership has moved us into a new category of the way people look at us.

The overall mission of the university is to educate military and civilian leaders through teaching, research and outreach — outreach in areas of national resources [and] military strategy. That now increasingly includes cyber.

Everything today is done in a collaborative way. There are very few of us who can work in isolation. We take collaboration very seriously at the college. We intentionally have projects that require work across boundaries and across time. Many times, students have said, “Hey, let me just do it on my own,” and my answer to that is no. Why should you do it on your own when you’re eventually going to have to work in a collaborative environment? We’re creating a learning environment that simulates the work environment you’re going to be in.

The bottom line is our mission is to prepare leaders to use info and IT for a strategic advantage. Information creates diplomacy. We have a wonderful crossroads where we can continually engage stakeholders, whether they are government or industry leaders.

Read more about the 2011 Federal 100 award winners.

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