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Capstone project management launches IT careers

A couple of recent integrated information technology (iIT) graduates are making headway early in their young careers, buoyed by senior project management courses taken at the University of South Carolina. Dustin Smith, a 2014 graduate, and Jeff Fontaine, who walked across the stage this past May, were both accepted into MetLife’s Technical University (MTU) program in large part due to the experience they gained in Dr. Karen Patten’s Capstone Project course.

All iIT students are required to participate in an IT Capstone Project where they initiate, plan, design and implement, monitor and control, and then close a real-world IT project for a real IT client. Team-based capstone projects provide an excellent opportunity for IT students to acquire project management and teamwork skills as well as demonstrate their technical skills learned throughout the IT curriculum. The IT capstone project experience also reinforces the student development of soft skills including communications, leadership, teamwork, and critical thinking, which are key factors for industry IT hiring and career development.

“I didn’t really even know that project management was an option when I came to USC. I was able to take two courses my senior year and I really liked them. It was interacting with people, solving a problem, organizing something from beginning to end and producing tangible results,” said Smith.

“The industry is changing and companies are unlikely to hire entry-level IT professionals without any project management experience,” said Patten. “Many of these companies felt IT project managers needed to have at least five years of experience. Because of the Capstone Project and other project management courses our program is offering, our students are even landing internship opportunities in IT project management now.”

Smith echoed Patten’s sentiments based on his own experience after learning about an opportunity with MetLife through a member of his team during his Capstone Project. “Every company is looking for experience in project management. I was able to use my experience from the Capstone Project in my interview and talk about it for nearly 10 minutes and all the experience I gained from the course. It was absolutely instrumental in landing in the project management office at MetLife which is very competitive and very difficult to get into.”

After successfully completing training in the MTU program, Smith is now employed full time with MetLife in their brand new Cary, N.C., campus as an associate project analyst.

Fontaine found his opportunity with MetLife through JobMate via the USC Career Center. He is currently going through the MTU program as a technical associate through December, when he’s expected to move into a full-time position as a Portfolio Management Office (PMO) coordinator. His passion lies in number crunching and bridging the gap between IT and business, something he learned about in his final year at Carolina from Patten’s course and from Dr. Dan Norris’ project management course.