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Engagement beyond the Classroom: NKU’s Center for Applied Informatics

One Greater Cincinnati school is changing the way the region thinks about work force development. The Northern Kentucky University (NKU) College of Informatics teaches students how to use technology to solve real-world problems via their virtual co-op program.

“Our goal is to deliver innovative solutions by pairing talented students with high-tech facilities,” said Jill Henry, executive director of the Center for Applied Informatics (CAI). “Our students work directly with nonprofits, startups and businesses.” 

Learning by doing

The college offers a strategic combination of classroom and transdisciplinary learning. Students are recruited into a co-op program and work directly with local businesses to build networks, create websites and develop communications strategies.

“We focus on applied learning,” said Henry. “Connecting academic work with real-world experiences helps students develop critical thinking skills and find the right career for them.  It elevates their success.”

This hands-on experience also offers big benefits to regional employers.

“Not only are the students solving business problems, these employers get an early opportunity to build relationships with potential new employees,” said Henry.

Finding talent throughout the university

NKU created a unique way to engage an underserved population.

“Through an anonymous donor, we’ve been able to hire students into the program who may not have thought to apply,” said Henry.

Rather than the usual campus job, the apprentice students are paired with others already in the CAI to learn the program’s core curriculum.

Students begin by doing quality checks to learn the basics of scripts and testing tools for smartphone apps. After advancing through this testing process, they are introduced to more of the curriculum.

“The tech skills are important, but the program also empowers students to build confidence, practice communications skills and work with clients,” said Henry.

NKU Center for Applied Informatics building & students

Illuminating opportunities

Training students for their careers is a goal for any university, but NKU puts particular emphasis on helping students discover the right fit.

“It’s easy for students to look for job opportunities at the region’s big companies,” said Henry. “We try to introduce them to growing startups and the nonprofit community to demonstrate the wide range of career options we have in Greater Cincinnati.”

To learn more about the College of Informatics, visit NKU’s website.