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InfoQ Homepage News Unique Software Degree Program Restarted

Unique Software Degree Program Restarted

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New Mexico Highlands University, (NMHU) has restarted a unique program for educating and supporting "a community of professionals capable of using computing technology to solve the complex, "wicked," problems and systems challenges facing the World today." NMHU conducted a pilot of this program to validate the model and demonstrate that it was possible to provide a broader education in a shorter period of time and graduate journeyman level professionals. InfoQ has previously article about the programs philosophy and structure, and an experience report about the first year of operation.

The program at Highlands was put on hold at the end of the pilot year for reasons that had nothing to do with the academic value and success of the program. The program was then established at the College of Santa Fe which closed for financial reasons. Last year, the process of reinstating it at Highlands began and it is fully operational once again this fall.

The conceptual and philosophical foundations of the program include a belief that the discovery and implementation of innovative solutions to complex problems is, substantially, an "art" and cannot be reduced to a purely formal science or engineering practice. The real goal of the program is to graduate "creative polymaths," individuals that have acquired and integrated knowledge from multiple domains who are masters of the kind of thinking skills required to find, and implement, solutions to the problems confronting business, government, and society.

Some specific features of the program include:

  • apprenticeship - all students are required to complete multiple projects, working in teams, using agile approaches, and working with professional developers who also provide mentorship and the kind of 'tacit' understanding that is usually acquired on the job, after graduation.
  • Profile based student evaluation. Several hundred "competencies" are defined along with seven levels of demonstrated capability. Students must demonstrate level three capability (apply the knowledge in a novel context) for all competencies and up to level seven (make an original contribution to understanding of the competency domain) for a significant subset. This assures that all students have both strong foundational knowledge and experience along with the ability to specialize and establish mastery of an area of individual interest.
  • Students graduate with a portfolio of accomplishments - not just a transcript of course titles and grades
  • All students are expected to become members of a profession, and that means making a contribution to that profession via papers and presentations. (60% of the students in the pilot year, including some freshmen, wrote and published papers that were refereed and accepted at professional conferences like OOPSLA and Agile.)
  • Students graduate with an established professional network based on their work with professionals in the program and contacts at the professional conferences in which they participate.
  • All work, project and academic, takes place in a "one room school-house" that resembles the ideal agile team room. Education is 'on-demand' and is instantly integrated and applied in the context of current projects. This significantly reduces the total time required to convey knowledge, when compared to traditional university programs based on semesters and three hour courses.


The program offers outside organizations (business, government, non-profit) opportunities for partnership that include: contact development work (at rates competitive with off-shore work); "externships" (you select students to work for your company on your projects, but in our studio where they can receive more extensive and continuous mentorship than is usually available in any but the best internship experiences); research; and recruitment.

Much more information about the program is available from the two InfoQ articles mentioned above. Questions and enquiries about the program should be directed to Dr. David West at either -- or

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