CyberLab Gets Down to Business

Beginning this fall, Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) students are participating in research and development in a real-world setting, thanks to a partnership between IUPUI and VIFI, a local technology company.

The students, IUPUI undergraduates, will intern in the school’s CyberLab, which has been relocated to VIFI’s Indianapolis headquarters. The CyberLab has been the school’s information technology research and development facility for several years, producing such ventures as the OnCourse course management system and its commercial cousin Angel. The move to VIFI’s campus is a deliberate strategy to take students out of the academic setting and put them into the everyday world of the technology industry.

According to Ari Jafari, computer technology professor and head of the CyberLab, the student interns will benefit tremendously from the partnership. “We’ve always built real products here. But at VIFI, students are going to learn about working in a real team setting, about R&D, and about getting products to market.”

Students will work in product teams on both CyberLab and VIFI projects. They come from a broad range of backgrounds and majors. “They’re not all programmers,” says Jafari. “We need business students for marketing and English majors for technical writing. Prior experience is not the issue. We hire students who want to learn and work hard.” Each unpaid intern will earn six credit hours from IUPUI for two semesters of internships. The internship is pass/fail, and intern selection is competitive.

“We tell them that they must be very motivated to succeed,” says Jafari. “This isn’t like a course where they can settle for a B instead of an A. They have to do A work every time in this situation.” Students will commit to working at least 15 hours per week in the CyberLab.

VIFI will provide workspace, equipment, and an endless supply of free snacks and soft drinks, as well as a corporate atmosphere that encourages fun (a pool table and foosball game are on site). VIFI president Mike Winter notes that the new partnership benefits VIFI as well. “In this joint venture, we gain an opportunity to meet talented students who are potential future employees,” he says. “They’ll help us get a couple of projects done along the way.” He also points out that the partnership is a rare example of business and academia working collaboratively. “We’re building connection points between the two, helping to bridge the gap between academia and the real world of business.”

The IUPUI CyberLab will continue to focus on developing educational tools, including a new project—an electronic portfolio tool for students. The project, a collaboration of IUPUI, UCLA, Penn State, and Florida State, is typical of the CyberLab’s “educator-to-educator” focus. CyberLab interns will also work on VIFI projects, under the mentorship of a VIFI manager. VIFI, a financial services technology company, is known for its Internet banking, cash management, and credit card services. They have no plans to enter the education technology market.

Eventually, Jafari hopes to expand the lab, bringing in research fellows and postdocs both on site and in a virtual capacity. He also hopes to expand the internship program to include Indiana’s most talented high school computer students as well as a larger group of university students.

For more information, contact Lyn Mettler, Media Relations Coordinator, IUPUI, lmettler@iupui.edu.

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