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Optimizing the future: How Harper’s Innovation Accelerator and BILT councils guide growth

Instructor Annabel Hasty gives an AI presentation in the Innovation Accelerator Lab at a Harper College open house.

Continuing Professional Education (CPE) Instructor Annabel Hasty discusses real-world applications for artificial intelligence in Harper College's Innovation Accelerator lab. (Courtesy of Harper College)

The world is changing faster than ever, and new technologies are rapidly becoming part of everyday business. Harper College’s Innovation Accelerator is the answer: a growing collaborative of forward-thinking faculty, administrators and business leaders that works to prepare the next generation of professionals for the opportunities of the future.

Launched in the fall of 2022, the Innovation Accelerator, “works across the college to streamline and accelerate the development of programs, particularly in emerging technology areas,” explained Dr. Susanne Brock, senior director, innovation and development.

The U.S. Department of Education awarded Harper College a $1.6 million grant in spring 2023 to support the development of courses in emerging technology. These new programs are focused on building future technology skills so students earn industry-recognized credentials and prepare to contribute to high-tech workplaces from day one.

Cutting-edge tools, practical experience

Harper stays at the forefront of emerging technology by analyzing labor market data and meeting quarterly with experts in Business and Industry Leadership Team (BILT) advisory councils.

Subject matter experts develop programs using market data, and courses are piloted as Community Education and Continuing Professional Education courses. Lessons are further refined in CE with student feedback before programs are evaluated to determine whether they’re developed and offered as credit-bearing courses.

This process makes Harper’s Innovation Accelerator unique, connecting industry needs with continuing education and for-credit courses. It also resulted in the college’s new Cybersecurity Degree program, which offers stackable certificates that lead to a 60-hour Associate in Applied Sciences degree in this emerging field. The program, recently approved by the Harper College Board of Trustees, is set to begin in the fall of 2024.

Meanwhile, programs inartificial intelligence and machine learning and cloud infrastructure are currently running or under development. Nanotechnology, quantum technology and smart manufacturing are all under consideration as subjects for future programs.

Michael Cornstubble, an infrastructure architect for Amazon, teaches AI courses for CE and CPE students at Harper. His students are a mix of professionals and retirees interested in expanding their AI skillset.

“We’re not just teaching our blend of AI or what we think is coming,” he said. “We’re taking a practical and ethical look at the future to make sure students are getting practical experience with the industry-leading tools.”

BILT councils: Seeing into the future

To ensure new programs meet the needs of both students and employers, Harper has recruited leading business partners to join its BILT advisory councils – 10-15 members who represent leading businesses in the field for each program. Councils meet three or four times per year to assess knowledge, skills, and abilities of the workforce, refine curriculum with Harper faculty and assess the industry outlook 3-5 years in the future.

The first BILT council at Harper College is advising the cybersecurity program. Members represent national and regional employers including:

  • Amazon Web Services
  • Microsoft
  • Google
  • Gallagher
  • Vistex
  • Grainger
  • Raytheon Technologies

“The BILT council model makes very strong connections between the needs of employers and the needs of our students,” Brock said.

Businesses interested in getting involved may learn more on the Employer Partners webpage and email Brock.

Innovation Accelerator Open House

Teaching at the forefront

Harper College is the perfect place for innovative, high-tech programs, Cornstubble explained, because change happens so fast.

“If you’re really trying to have the skills that employers in the IT space are asking for today, you’re almost by definition going outside of the four-year degree,” he said. “Employers look for experience in execution with cutting-edge industry standards, and in our flexible environment, students get hands-on experience with the latest systems like Python, PandaAI and NumPy. These are the tools they’ll be using if they work for Raytheon, Google or Amazon.”

The connection between employers and students through BILT councils provides regular curriculum updates, networking opportunities and direct lines to opportunity.

“Employers are telling us what they need, and we’re giving it to them. It’s a win-win-win as far as I’m concerned,” Brock said. “Our students are work-ready when they graduate with their associate degree and industry-recognized credentials.”

With the help of BILT councils, Harper is actively monitoring what’s next to stay ahead of the curve and help all students get access to innovative technology.

“The intent is to make sure students in all disciplines are technology-ready for the real world,” she said.

Learn more about theInnovation Accelerator.

Last Updated: 6/6/24