NJIT student project provides invaluable experience: Helps firms save money

12/10/04

Students from New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) have saved CIT Group Inc. hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The students designed a database for CIT Group, a commercial and consumer finance company, which its managers use to comply with rigorous auditing rules mandated under a new federal law. The students built the database as part of their senior class work project, called the Capstone Program.

"If I had to pay a consultant for the work that the NJIT students did for CIT, it would have cost hundreds of thousands of dollars," said Harold Olmstead, vice president of Systems and Technology Services at CIT, in Livingston "The program gives NJIT students a chance to integrate real world experience into their academic experience, which is invaluable to them and to us."

Since its inception two years ago, student teams have done projects for more than 91 sponsors. The sponsors include six Fortune 500 companies, 54 smaller firms, eight in-state colleges and universities, five public service departments or agencies at the city, state or national levels and ten projects sponsored by universities. Sponsors of the Capstone Program include McKesson Corp., San Francisco; Honeywell International, Morristown; PSE&G Inc., Newark; New Jersey Governor's office, Trenton; NASA, Washington, D.C.; and the National Science Foundation, Arlington, Va.

A total of 200 student teams more than 1,000 students - have participated in more than 200 projects. Some of the companies keep the students coming for consecutive semesters and some use more than one team.

Take, for example, CIT Group. Olmstead has four student teams now working for him. And during the last few years, dozens of NJIT students have done projects for him. He even reserves cubicle space in his Livingston offices for the students' use. The four teams are designing complex database system that helps CIT comply with the Sarbanes Oxley Act of 2002. The law, passed in the wake of financial scandals such as Enron and WorldCom, compels large companies to produce and issue voluminous auditing reports for the federal government.

As part of CIT's Sarbanes-Oxley reporting initiative, the students designed the database to help CIT information-technology managers store, trace and access financial data. CIT had an auditing database, Olmstead said, but it was manual and restrictive and didn't allow managers to query and input data.

The students used a Microsoft computer language Microsoft SQL that automatically allows managers to access and input data. The students also added a web browser to the database that offers managers access to the data, which makes it much easier for CIT to comply with the Sarbanes-Oxley reporting mandates.

"We at CIT have been quite impressed with the students' abilities, insight and follow through," Olmstead said. "We are very fortunate to have the opportunity to participate in this innovative program." CIT's collaboration with NJIT has allowed the firm to keep up with ever-growing technical demands, he added.

Another NJIT student team is helping Saint Clare's Health Systems, in Denville. The six-student team helped the hospital automate time-consuming filing systems records. Dan Sperry, the hospital's Intranet developer, said the students have used the Intranet and new Microsoft technology to design an electronic filing system.

"The NJIT students have been extremely helpful and have done major work," said Sperry. "If I had to do the work they did, it would have taken me months."

A third student team has spent the semester working on computer forensics for ICG, Inc., of Princeton, a firm that investigates Internet crimes, digital piracy, email- fraud schemes, product counterfeiting and other crimes. The students designed an electronic evidence management system for ICG. It's a secure system that electronically documents the processes used by computer forensic investigators. The system produces reports that investigators must present in court during litigation. ICG was so happy with the student work that they even hired one of the students.

"The students did a great job," said Jim Emerson, vice president for forensics at ICG. "The students' system allows our investigators now to gather information in five minutes, whereas before it would have taken them an hour."

NJIT started the Capstone Program in the fall of 2002, mandating that all seniors majoring in computer science complete a semester-long project. Working in teams of four to six, students design and implement software products and other computing services. Each student must spend nine hours a week on the project, and many of them travel to their sponsor companies. The projects deal with different business problems and applications, from entertainment, finance, health care, education and public sector needs.

"The Capstone Program is fantastic experience for our students," said Osama Eljabiri, a special lecturer at NJIT who teaches and directs the Senior Project Capstone courses. "When they graduate and go on job interviews, they can say, 'Here is a real-life project I worked on.'"

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