Informatics professor Dennis Gibson talks about the Mount’s newest majors starting in Fall 2013

Academics, Business, Health Sciences, Informatics

By: Jill Eichhorn

File Under: business, informatics

Informatics includes four majors that will begin at the Mount in Fall 2013. Dennis Gibson is one of the professors who will be teaching some of the courses. We sat down with him and asked some questions about the new majors.

Q: Informatics seems to be turning into a top choice of major for college students. Why is it so popular?

DG: One advantage of informatics over other computation-related majors is that it enables students to combine their passions for both computing and some other discipline such as health science, web or mobile software development, business, or in many other fields. In addition, an increasing number of employers are looking for college graduates that have information technology skills with the goal of filling traditional jobs with people who understand the possibilities that emerge from new technologies. Two things that employers look for are well-developed problem solving skills and the ability to communicate. Both of these traits should be true of a graduate from an informatics program and a liberal arts and science student from a college such as the Mount.

Q: What kinds of careers can students get with a degree in informatics?

DG: There is no shortage of careers that a student can enter with an informatics degree. Informatics is interdisciplinary. This means that graduates will be able to apply computing and information technology skills into traditional non-IT careers that are evolving due to our ever-increasing reliance on data and information. Some example careers would be Information Architect, System Administrator, Health Informaticist, Database Designer, Webmaster, IT Consultant, Human-Computer Interface Designer, User Experience Analyst, Interaction Designer, Web/Mobile App Developer, Programmer, Systems Analyst, Media Specialist, and Database Analyst.  This is by no means an exhaustive list, but just a sampling to represent the positions most widely recruited for.

Q: Why are there different tracks for Informatics at the Mount? It isn’t a “one-size-fits-all” model?

DG: Since informatics is by definition interdisciplinary, it necessarily follows that there would be different tracks. Informatics is meant to apply computing and information science skills into different disciplines. At the Mount, students are able to choose a field of study in which to hone their computing skills, whether it is for business, health science, mathematics, or software development for web and mobile applications.

Q: Is informatics a major that a student needs to go to graduate school just to get a job?

DG: Currently the U.S. is not producing enough computing and information science graduates to meet the current demand from employers. In addition, all projections for careers in this field will grow much faster than the average rate of growth for other industries. Students with computing and information technology skills are in high demand with undergraduate degrees. This trend in demand is projected to continue well into the future. However, graduates in informatics from the Mount will be well-prepared for many graduate fields if they so choose to continue their education.

Q: Can students have an informatics minor to complement a different major? What major would that work with?

DG: Employees with information technology skills are becoming more important in many "non-techie", traditional careers. Having computing and information technology skills will help to separate an employee from their traditional, "non-techie" peers. Students majoring in any of the sciences (biology, chemistry, physics, health science or mathematics) would especially benefit from the skills gained through a minor in informatics.  Business majors, including marketing and advertising, would also benefit. I cannot leave out the social sciences as psychology and sociology majors could also benefit as there are many careers in informatics such as User Experience Design (UX-Design) has its roots in these fields.

Q: Can students co-op in informatics?

DG: Yes. Our co-op office has done a fine job over the years in helping our students to get experiential learning while still in school.

Q: You have been a professor at the Mount for about 15 years. How have things changed during that time?

DG: The thing that has changed the most is how we use information. Fifteen years ago, the average employee could survive with basic word document and spreadsheet knowledge. The computing and Information technology was handled by as small IT crew. However, now many employees are asked to do many IT tasks that at one time would have fallen under the duties of the IT team. Also, we are required to manage information in "real-time" or instantaneously as opposed to the past when we communicated with emails or through phone calls. Texting, social media and other emerging technologies have changed the way we communicate and the way we interact with one another.

Q: What do you do for fun when you’re not teaching Mount students?

DG: I love learning. I like to explore new and emerging technologies, computer languages, web/mobile technologies in my spare time. I probably spend several hours of each evening just trying to find what the new hot topic will be and then reading and working through tutorials on those topics. When I'm not learning, I enjoy taking hikes with my dogs or going on bike tours.