IT School to Watch: Carnegie Mellon University

Students are trained for roles in behavioral science.

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Elective courses are based on the student's background and can be taken in any college in the university. For instance, John says, she approved a freshman-level photography course for a student who was a computer scientist, and she has sent students off-campus to an art film college. Both Prabaker and Culberson chose design-oriented electives.

All these skills culminate in an eight-month "capstone project," which is longer and more intense than similar programs at other schools, John says, because the complexity and scope of the projects themselves can be greater. In fact, the projects are so complex that the teams (commonly four or five students) absolutely have to work together to complete it -- there's no way for students to break off and work independently, which John says helps them in the real world. "It's the notion of working with the same people whether you like them or not," she says.

As far as Culberson is concerned, it was an "absolutely amazing experience." After graduating in 2004, she spent three years as an interaction designer at eBay Inc., and she is now a principal interaction designer at LinkedIn Corp. Compared with her days as a product manager for several Internet companies during the dot-com boom and then as a financial adviser during the bust, she's made a huge leap in salary, she says. "Never could have I have predicted it would have been such a great year, and so great for my career," she says.

Culberson also liked the fact that the program is 12 months long rather than two years, like those at other schools. "For 12 months, I was able to live and breathe HCI," she says, noting that a desire to avoid paying two years' of tuition was another reason she was drawn to CMU.

Students from CMU's HCI Institute are much in demand, both Prabaker and Culberson say, with job offers flowing in before students even graduate. The school works to open those doors, sending students to the international CHI conference, where networking opportunities abound.

"I think everyone who graduated in my class got exactly the job they wanted," Prabaker says. "A lot of us were getting job offers in February, and companies like Google are hiring right on campus." Four of the students in Culberson's class were hired by eBay; in fact, Prabaker says, "it's hard to find a Bay Area company with a user experience team with someone who didn't graduate from CMU in the last five years."

Brandel is a Computerworld contributing writer. You can contact her at

This version of this article appeared in Computerworld's print edition.

Next: Georgia State University: Program pairs technical and business coursework, including project management.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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