IBM and Columbia University Team Up to Provide Sustainable Skills Training

You’ve probably seen IBM’s ad campaign touting its Smarter Cities initiative. Now the company is teaming up with Columbia University to bring smart students hands-on training in the smart technologies IBM is developing.

The two institutions announced today the Smarter Cities Skills Initiative, a partnership between the Center for Technology, Innovation and Community Engagement (CTICE), part of Columbia’s Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science (SEAS), and IBM. The partnership will open IBM’s resources, including access to its 40 Innovation Centers worldwide, to help prepare students to work in the green economy.

An emerging skill set

Rich Lechner, vice president, IBM Energy and Environment, said as the company works with cities worldwide to build smarter, more sustainable infrastructure, “it’s become clear there’s a new set of skills required.”

Specifically, Lechner cited three skills that are central to building smart infrastructure: technical skills to negotiate the overlay of “smart” digital infrastructure over physical infrastructure; analytical and business optimization skills to manage the “huge amounts of data” that are generated as a result, and the ability to present the data in a way that is accessible to broad audiences; and lastly, with all the data that is being generated by smarter streets, sewer systems, or electricity grids, knowledge of data security is paramount.

“We’re talking about the transformation of an entire industry,” said Lechner.

Jack McGourty, senior associate dean of Columbia Engineering School, said engineering skills have become the “system integrator” when it comes to building smart, sustainable cities. “Our focus is to create social responsible engineers, looking at problems in an interdisciplinary way.”

IBM has long been a major employer of Columbia grads. McGourty said there was no concern on his end about the university pairing up with a private corporation. The Skills Initiative will be available to both undergrad and graduate students.

BC (Ben) Upham is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles. He has written for the New York Times, and was a writer and editor for News Communications, Inc., a local paper consortium serving Manhattan. When he's not blogging on green issues -- and especially renewable energy -- he's hiking in the Angeles Mountains or hanging out at El Matador.

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