OMS Students Gather to Take ‘Byte of the Big Apple’

Nearly 100 Georgia Tech online MS CS (OMS CS) students gathered high above Manhattan on Thursday, Sept. 29, to meet fellow students and program faculty for the first time—and to hear from a Harvard professor how OMS CS has quickly changed the way the world looks at online education.

Joshua Goodman, associate professor of public policy in Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, described the research he’s been conducting since 2014 that showed OMS CS has accessed a significant untapped market for advanced CS education. Comparing OMS CS applicants to a comprehensive database of college enrollments across the United States, the research found that the vast majority of applicants would not be pursuing their MS CS degrees at all if not for this program. By itself, the research predicts, OMS CS will raise the number of MS CS degree holders in the United States by 8 percent.

Collaborating with Goodman on the work was fellow Harvard faculty member Amanda Pallais, Paul Sack Associate Professor of Political Economy and Social Studies in the Harvard Faculty of Arts and Science, and Associate Professor Julia Melkers from Georgia Tech’s School of Public Policy.

“This is the first time I’ve ever had the opportunity to talk directly to my data points,” Goodman joked to the students in attendance. “Many of you are on a spreadsheet on my desk.”

Held in the headquarters of Macmillan Learning, 46 floors above New York’s Financial District, the reception was hosted by Macmillan Chief Operating Officer—and current OMS student—Ken Brooks, a two-time graduate of Georgia Tech.

In his opening remarks, Brooks revealed that he was probably one of those “OMS or bust” students described in Goodman’s research.

“I started my career a long time ago and thought that education was done for me,” said Brooks, who earned his bachelor’s (1981) and master’s (1982) in industrial engineering from Georgia Tech. Then, he heard that an online learning company called Udacity was offering courses in computer science via a new delivery format called “MOOCs.”

“This is great,” Brooks recalled thinking. “I’m going to [take those courses] before they go out of business.”

Not long afterward, Brooks saw that his alma mater had announced a MOOC-based MS CS program in collaboration with Udacity and AT&T, and he again jumped at the opportunity—and was rejected admission in the first cohort. Demonstrating trademark Yellow Jacket tenacity, Brooks applied a second time, and is now in his seventh semester as an OMS student, also serving as a teaching assistant this fall.

In attendance on Sept. 29 were dozens of students just like Brooks—working professionals, many with families to support, earning a degree they may not ever have been able to attain without OMS CS.

“Everything [Goodman] said was right on the money,” said Scott Leitstein, who was admitted to that first cohort and graduated from OMS CS in May 2016. “If it wasn’t for this program, I would never have been able to do it. I didn’t realize I was basically quoting Josh’s research when I post and brag about this stuff.”

“This [reception] has been a great opportunity,” said student Yaroslav Litvak, who works full-time as a uniformed sanitation worker for the city of New York. “In the online process, what’s missing is the physical interaction, and that’s why it’s great to be able to meet and shake hands with the people you’re working with. I had no idea Charles Isbell was that tall.”

Indeed, Litvak got the measure not only of Isbell, senior associate dean and instructor for two OMS courses, but also of Zvi Galil, John P. Imlay Jr. Dean of Computing; Rich DeMillo, Charlotte B. and Roger C. Warren Professor of Computing and former dean of the College; and College faculty and OMS instructors David Joyner, Alex Orso, and Kishore Ramachandran.

“We are here because OMS CS has become a phenomenon,” Galil said in his remarks, citing the 12,000 applications the program has received in three years, as well as the 3,944 students enrolled this semester, the 111 graduates it’s produced to date, and the 900+ media articles that have covered OMS CS since it was announced. Galil also cited the fact that computing is a field in the United States that has many, many more job openings than there are qualified graduates to fill them.

“We might be one of very few universities addressing a national need,” Galil said.

Indeed, bearing this out is the fact that, unlike Georgia Tech’s residential MS CS program, OMS CS is comprised mostly of U.S. students and permanent residents, who make up 76 percent of the Fall 2016 enrollment—nearly the inverse of Tech’s on-campus MS CS enrollment.

“There is a lot of demand in total [for this program],” Goodman said, “and there’s a lot of demand in particular from Americans.”

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