IBM Lends a Software and Services Hand

IBM is offering a helping hand to a remote corner of the globe, but it might not be the first region that comes to mind. The area IBM is helping is in rural Appalachia, right here in the United States.

The computing giant has partnered with the Appalachian College Association (ACA), a group of 35 liberal arts schools in five southern states, to provide free IBM software and services to help the students keep up with contemporaries at better-funded colleges.

The schools in the ACA consortium often struggle financially and at least one member has gone bankrupt in recent years, according to Martin Ramsey, chief instructional technologist for the ACA.

“What I’m seeing is not a lack of willingness or a lack of knowledge but a lack of opportunities. A lot of computer science faculty are aware of what they ought to be doing and have been struggling to do just that. These are small schools that are often strapped financially,” he said.

According to the Appalachian Regional Commission, high school graduation rates among kids in the region trail the US average by 10 percent, and the college graduation rate is 35 percent below the national average. Many students who attend these schools are the first in their family to go to college, said Ramsey.

“It seems to me technology has the power to level the playing field and make geography irrelevant,” he told “What we’re trying to do is give these kids an opportunity to compete on the world stage and technology can do that. IBM cares about its next generation of employees, and where they are going to come from.”

The U.S. Department of Labor predicts this country will need 1.5 million more information technology professionals, and that shortage simply can’t be solved by outsourcing work to India, said Ramsey.

So far, the partnership with IBM has been focused on software. Hardware has not been a big issue for the schools, said Ramsey. One of the first projects with the ACA will be a three-day training session on IBM’s Rational Software Architect. Other workshops will include tutorials for faculty and students in Rational, DB2, Cloudscape and Java.

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