Dr. Max Garzon compares the creation of a new e-commerce
master's degree program at The University of Memphis to that
of an elementary mathematics formula.
"The idea was as simple as putting two and two together,"
says Garzon, a U of M professor of computer science. "In the
workforce, there is a visible need for qualified individuals
who are familiar with the concepts of electronic commerce.
Here at the University, we have a number of professors who
are on the cutting edge of e-commerce technology. It only
made sense to start this program."
The end product is a unique master's program that addresses
the ever-changing face of commerce today, offering students
cutting edge knowledge in an exploding field. With the concept
of e-commerce so new, few universities have yet to offer degree
programs in the field, giving U of M students a marked advantage
in the workforce.
taking part in The U of M's new e-commerce degree get
classroom instruction and hands-on experience.
After receiving state approval last fall, the program began
with 20 students with backgrounds in medicine and law, and
even several with master's degrees in other fields.
"It's not a degree in how to build Web sites," explains Dr.
Mark Gillenson, professor of management information systems
and co-director with Garzon of the program. "We are aiming
much higher than that. It's much more of a strategic level
of understanding of these technologies so that graduates can
truly tap the best of both worlds in their professional practice."
Adds Garzon, "Just as today we have chief information officers
and chief technology officers, we are decisively evolving
towards the concept of chief electronic commerce officers."
An interdisciplinary degree, the program is designed to educate
students in a broad range of business and technical aspects
of e-commerce. Full-time students can complete the 33-hour
master's requirements in three semesters. There is a core
of three e-commerce classes and a group project at the end-the
capstone course where students apply their knowledge as a
team by working with a local company under the direction of
faculty. An important component is having guests from e-commerce
businesses lecture to classes, giving the program more of
a "hands-on" feel. The program is a collaboration between
the Fogelman College of Business and Economics and the College
of Arts and Sciences.
The U of M program was conceived three years ago by Garzon.
He approached Gillenson about the need in the marketplace
for e-commerce trained professionals. At the same time, Gillenson
and marketing professor Dr. Daniel Sherrell had started teaching
an electronic commerce elective at the master's level in the
"We spent a year developing the curriculum and two years
pushing it through the University administration and the state
processes," Gillenson says. "At the point we started to design
the program during the 1997-98 school year, there weren't
any other programs. One thing to be noted is that the design
team included professors from both computer science and the
business school and business people, particularly from FedEx."
Gillenson and Garzon point out that during the Tennessee
Board of Regents review in December 1999, students and companies
emphasized the importance of hands-on experiences in the program-having
guest lecturers attend classes to relate real work experiences.
"At that time we were not as aware as we are today of the
shortage of information technology in Memphis," Garzon explains.
"E-commerce was being talked about because of the emergence
of the Web. The idea resonated very well with people in the
Of about 20 institutions offering e-commerce degree programs,
only two others--Carnegie Mellon and DePaul University--are
established as interdisciplinary. "Between The U of M's new
e-commerce program and Vanderbilt's early MBA concentration
in e-commerce, there's been a lot of educational activity
in the state of Tennessee concerning electronic commerce,"
Gillenson says. "I hope somebody's noticing that."
Federal government numbers indicate e-commerce is steadily
growing, with no slow-down in sight despite an apparent down-trend
in the entire economy. U.S. Department of Commerce figures
for the second quarter of 2000 show retail e-commerce totals
at $5.5 billion, a 5.3 percent rise over the first quarter.
Forrester Research is forecasting that by 2003, yearly business-to-business
e-commerce transactions will total $1.3 trillion.
E-commerce companies--businesses that conduct transactions
online--accounted for 3,326 new jobs in Memphis in 1999, with
$199,218,000 in capital investment.
Cathy Elliott, director of the Memphis Area High Technology
Council, says "We have more than 35 companies in Memphis who
have identified themselves as e-commerce operations. The list
is not inclusive and doesn't count businesses who have an
e-commerce segment. With the growth that our city has enjoyed,
new and existing businesses are in dire need of qualified
people who are at the high end of the education ladder. The
master's program at The University of Memphis is just the
source to deliver the product."
The U of M's commitment to e-commerce is getting an enthusiastic
response from an elated business community. Locally-based
national companies including International Paper, BellSouth,
AutoZone and FedEx are participating on an advisory board.
They will work with The U of M on e-commerce projects designed
to give students practical experience as well as the ability
to solve business problems requiring a strong research component
including cutting-edge technology.
Howard Zimmerman of DotLogix, a provider of business-to-business
e-commerce solutions for the manufacturing and distribution
industries, is eager to participate. "We benefit by there
being a strong environment for e-commerce in Memphis," he
says. "Most corporate communities who are strong in this are
clustered around a university that is taking a leadership
position in this new economy. The best business models are
at the university level."
The supportive response by the business community is not
surprising. Similar degree programs at New York University
and Carnegie Mellon are reporting that companies pay five-figure
fees to get degree candidates in projects specified by or
for e-commerce programs.
The U of M professors hope that companies will step in to
provide scholarships and fellowships for students in exchange
for their participation with a company. "We're asking them
to help us financially with the program," says Garzon. "We
have cultivated business connections and people are contacting
us about how to get involved."
Dave Barnwell, general manager for iXL, a global Internet
consulting firm, has been one of the companies advising The
U of M. "This degree is a huge step towards solidifying Memphis'
ever-growing reputation as a technology leader, and one that
iXL supports whole-heartedly," Barnwell says. "You also have
to consider the far-reaching professional benefits of having
a degree of this nature at The University of Memphis. It is
one more way to keep the incredibly rich talent base we have
in the area as well as attracting some of the nation's foremost
thinkers to our region. It is just one more reason for technology
leaders to call Memphis home and will ultimately benefit not
only iXL and other technology leaders, but also the entire
Memphis business community and city as a whole. What better
way to give back to the community than to assist in any way
we can with the development of a program that is breaking
new ground academically for the entire nation?"
Garzon says The U of M program will flourish. "We believe
strongly that this e-commerce degree is going to be successful.
Because, to see the big picture, you have to understand both
sides: business and computing. That's the reason this program
should exist. Otherwise, we could just train MBAs and train
computer scientists. If a person is really going to be knowledgeable
in e-commerce, he must have a perspective from both. Perhaps
he cannot develop the computer systems, but he will have a
great deal of understanding about what it takes to move a
brick and mortar company into e-commerce."
Gillenson points to another aspect of the program that is
expected to be a success. "We believe that this kind of cross-college
collaboration should be a model for other programs in the
University," he says.
For specifics about applying to the program, see the Web
site at www.cs.memphis.edu/ec.
The professors also invite e-mail inquiries about the program
and about a company's involvement. E-mail Garzon at firstname.lastname@example.org
and Gillenson at email@example.com.