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Stanford Computer Science Course Taps Corporate Sponsor

A Swedish company has signed on at Stanford University in a unique mentoring arrangement in which the commercial entity pays an "affiliate fee" of $75,000 to propose a project theme to be undertaken in the course. Compuverde, which specializes in cloud-based storage of unstructured data, will be working with Stanford computer science students in its CS210 course, "Project-Based Software Design, Innovation, & Development." In that class, students design software solutions for use in corporate settings. The same course has seven other corporate sponsors as well.

The upper-level course, which is two quarters long, pairs a student team with a company on a software challenge suggested by that company. According to the course Web site, "Teams take projects all the way from concept to completion, which includes defining requirements, iterating through ideas and prototypes and, ultimately, producing a software product." At the end of the course, the student teams share their prototypes at a software fair that takes place at the university in June.

"It is my belief that once a student reaches a certain threshold of proficiency in computer science, the most effective learning mechanism from that point forward is the experience of applying his or her skills to real challenges that exist in a given industry," said Jay Borenstein, the instructor who runs the program. "Time and time again, I've seen incredible student growth as they grapple with the increased scope that comes with working toward an industry outcome as opposed to the completion of an academic exercise."

The benefits of the corporate pairing, according to a presentation made by Borenstein, are that the sponsors get to know the students on the teams for potential future recruiting, the alliance plants "seeds of awareness" for products with "future tech leaders," and the projects allow the company involved to tap into the creativity of students and other Stanford resources in creating "a viable product outcome." The fee covers all costs, according to course Web site page, including "university infrastructure charges, teaching team time, laboratory services, travel, telecommunication services, and prototype fabrication requirements."

Previous projects undertaken in the course include:

  • Making the Kodak "ecosystem" of interest to Gen Y;
  • Using Windows Azure cloud services to provide better climate modeling tools for scientists; and
  • Coming up with additions to an application programming interface to enable a group of customers to use the sponsor's platform as their primary intranet.

But it's not all corporate-driven. At least one project undertaken each year is done for "social good."

"Stanford is recognized worldwide as a hotbed for computer science talent development," said Stefan Bernbo, CEO and founder of Compuverde. "We are thrilled and honored to collaborate with the students and instructors of CS210 as a corporate project partner. Compuverde is looking forward to supporting the world's brightest upcoming computer science talent as they seek novel solutions to high energy consumption in data centers and other deeply entrenched industry problems."

Other corporate sponsors for the latest iteration of the course include BMW, Facebook, Nokia, Samsung, SAP, Volkswagen, and newspaper publisher McClatchy Company.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a writer who covers technology and business for a number of publications. Contact her at dian@dischaffhauser.com.

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