Monday, March 25, 2013

A Reflection on Visiting Days

Visiting Days, where you walk the halls of North Quad and can start visualizing yourself working on group projects in the UMSI-students-only meeting rooms.

Last year, I was fortunate enough to visit Ann Arbor for this three-day weekend of activities, and meet new people.  Funny enough, most of the information I had already seen: from the Facebook Group to the UMSI website, but it still made a difference to meet the students living those words.  In particular, the moment of impact for me was hearing 40-year old Dylan (name changed) share his story of having worked in the publications industry but decided to make a career change because the tides of technology required a new mastery of information.  Even though he was still vested in publications, and had limited funding to support a drastic shift, he decided that he still had 20+ years of work ahead of him and the investment would pay off. In addition to the investment in himself, he discovered a new passion of web development and was reinvigorated to re-enter the work force equipped to make a difference.

There wasn't a push to make a decision on the spot, but evaluating my interactions with a community of potential future peers, recognizing the level of resources and support offered by the School (in particular the ever-helpful Career Development Office), and hearing the accelerated growth of students developing into information professionals with very positive career outcomes (2011 UMSI Employment Report in PDF) allowed me to decide UMSI was right for me.

As you all continue to consider UMSI as your school of choice for your graduate studies, take a second to visualize your typical day, see yourself as a student here, and decide, is this the right fit?

Monday, March 18, 2013

Visiting Days Prep

Visiting Days is approaching and we are excited to meet you all in person!  As a first year student, it is hard to believe that an entire year has gone by since my first step into UMSI; I cannot wait to share some thoughts on the school year with you all this weekend.
North Quad.  This weekend, weather sources anticipate 40º

Around this time last year, I was excited to visit a new city and a new campus.  This consisted of doing a Google search on "where to eat in Ann Arbor," "where to go for a hike in AA" "what to do on a Friday night in A2" (AA, A2, A^2 are all acceptable for Ann Arbor) but the more important part was continued research into the UMSI program.

I recall taking time the week before Visiting Days to write out the most important question I wanted answered, followed by probing questions.  This helped me come prepared and ready for engagement during Visiting Days.  Brainstorming questions also helped me piece together some of the information I had already encountered, as well as, determine what was most important for me: I was looking for a "good fit."  Thankfully, Visiting Days is set up to help answer your questions!  

The more I generated questions, the more I took this as a positive sign of being highly interested in UMSI.  For example, "What has been the best course you have taken and why?" and "How accessible are the professors?" are not questions Google can answer, so I asked everyone I met the same set of questions to help me evaluate multiple perspectives.  Google does not know all the answers but hearing first hand experiences from student panelists, mini-preview lectures from some of the top professors in Information, and UMSI staff showcasing the resources available to students was extremely valuable; coming prepared with questions made the process much more personalized and meaningful.

Finally, a quick note: the days are engaging and active, so as you come prepared with your questions, I would also suggest doing as much as you can to find time for relaxation before and after Visiting Days.

Hasta Sábado! (See you Saturday!)
Edgar Nuñez
UMSI Information Mentor

Monday, March 11, 2013

What to Expect for MSI Visiting Days

MSI Visiting Daysan event for admitted students, is your opportunity to delve deeper into any aspects of UMSI that interest you, address any questions you might still have, and really get a sense of the place and what your life might look like here. We have planned this event to give you the opportunity to converse with faculty in a relaxed setting; hear from current students about their experiences and meet with our students socially; learn more about the services we provide students from our staff; learn about the impact of the UMSI experience from alumni of the program; and see our beautiful home in North QuadThis is also a great opportunity to meet some of the stellar people who will be your cohort members in Fall 2013!

The days are packed with information, but given the scope and depth of the UMSI program, there may be some areas that are not addressed in presentations as thoroughly as you might wish. I strongly encourage you take charge of your visit and seek out the people who might be able to share more with you. Ask questions at the presentations! Make the most of your time with current students! Our student groups will be out with you on Sunday night, and present a great opportunity to learn more. UMSI Visiting Days can be all that you make of it. This proactive attitude is something that will serve you well in your time at UMSI too. There are a great deal of resources and knowledge to be had…be sure to seek them out!

Some of you might be wondering about dress code for the weekend. I believe that you should first and foremost feel comfortable. You’ll be spending quite a lot of time sitting, but there will also be some walks that have you travel across campus, so keep that in mind for your shoes! Although we will be sending an email prior to the weekend to give you a weather update, spring in Michigan is always a bit unpredictable. I’d encourage layers (plus something for rain) to make sure you’ll be prepared. Temperatures can be anywhere from the 40s to the 60s during the day, and could dip lower in the evening. It can also be a bit windy, so a jacket is a good idea.

We also often get questions about what to wear to the Networking Fair with potential employers. Again, I’d stress that your comfort is important, and mention that you might feel a bit more comfortable at this event in something a little nicer than typical weekend wear, but there’s no need to go as far as a suit and tie. You’ll have the chance to make connections with employers for future internship and career opportunities, so go for looking sharp and put together.

On the topic of the Networking Fair, it’s completely appropriate to come with some resumes to share with employers with whom you are interested. This fair will give you the opportunity to chat with employers about your career aspirations and learn about their organizations. You’ll learn about current and future internship opportunities, and is a great chance to network with professionals in your field.

We strive to make this event as informative and meaningful for you as possible. Communication regarding the logistics of the event, such as lodging, parking, shuttles, etc. will be sent as the event nears, mostly the week leading up to Visiting Days. If you have any questions about MSI Visiting Days, please don’t hesitate to contact us!

Monday, March 4, 2013

Technology at UMSI

The University of Michigan's School of Information (UMSI) has a reputation for including a strong technological component in many of its classes, even those classes geared towards Preservation, Archives, and Library Science. One of the most common trends among prospective Master’s students interested in these areas is worrying about their technical and technological background before coming to UMSI. First of all, you are not alone! Some questions that I, and all of the other information mentors, hear a lot this time of year are: “What level of technical background do I need before coming to UMSI? I don’t have a background in computer programming or computer science; will it be difficult for me to thrive at UMSI? What role does technology play in a UMSI master’s student’s everyday life?” The obvious underlying concern is whether you can succeed at UMSI without a strong technical background prior to coming to UMSI. In short, in my opinion, the answer to that question is a resounding yes! However, while UMSI assumes no technical or programming expertise, those of you who do have more technical backgrounds will not find themselves sitting in classes learning what you already know. One of the hallmarks of a UMSI degree is the ability to construct a curriculum plan that will make the most of your technological background and give you the experiences and skills you need moving forward. Having a technology-rich background may allow you to place out of some specialization-specific requirements (like Java or Python) so that you have more room in your 48 credits to take what you need or find particularly interesting.

One of the great aspects of UMSI’s community is that students come from various different backgrounds and lifestyles; it makes our cohort as diverse as it is and fosters great ideas when individuals bring their own unique backgrounds to a project. I will say right at the outset that one of the reasons I chose UMSI was because I felt that learning the technology would give me a leg up over different information and library schools and give me a solid background for when I join the workforce. Additionally, I am a bit of an outlying case as I have been using computers since the mid-1990’s, and I am intimately familiar with the inner workings of a computer; I have built my own desktop computer from scratch. However, my computer software and programming experience was nonexistent besides knowing a few console commands. I took a programming class in high school in 1999, but I had not touched a coding language in over a decade before I came into UMSI.

The topics of programming, internet history, and technology make up one of the three core UMSI classes (SI 502: Networked Computing: Storage, Communication, and Processing), and is undoubtedly a large part of UMSI’s core skills. However, Dr. Chuck, the 502 professor gears the class towards the programming and computer novice, and assumes no prior computer experience. Dr. Chuck makes learning about Python and the internet fun and easy (easier?) to understand, even for those whose brains don’t normally work that way. Furthermore, those students who are familiar with programming have the option to test out of the class, meaning that you will not find yourself in a class full of past professional coders who will dictate the pace and dominate the class. Personally, I loved Dr. Chuck’s class so much, I ended up taking three total programming classes during my time at UMSI, and I am interested in Archives and Records Management. In the span of two years, I went from having almost no coding experience, to feeling comfortable coding in Python, Java, HTML, PHP, and MYSQL. Obviously, some students with a non-technical background studying Social Computing or Human-Computer Interaction may have to work harder to catch up to other students, but all of the resources are there to help you garner to the same familiarity as some of your peers. I personally know multiple people interested in Human-Computer Interaction who came into the school with no programming experience, and now are some of the leading members of their peers. The entire school is full of beginners, and you are more likely to run into someone with no experience than someone with extensive programming experience.

Additionally, the level of technological expertise required varies by class. For instance, statistics and data manipulation classes will require a greater understanding of how to make technology work for you, but it is nothing that you cannot learn in class or through some small extra studying outside of class. Those in the ARM/LIS fields might have less programming to do, but they will have to become familiar with various software tools that they will encounter in the workforce, but, in my experience, if you can work with and use Microsoft Office applications, you can learn any software that ARM/LIS will throw at you. That said, everyone learns at different levels, so do not get discouraged if the technological side of the classes comes slower to you. You are not alone! I regularly met with a group of students in my cohort to go over our programming assignments every week and share ideas on how to debug and check our code before turning it in.

Now, I know that many of you might still worry about your technical skills and abilities despite my reassurances, so here are some general resources you can use to prepare yourself for UMSI. First, Code Academy offers a free course on Python that you can peruse before entering UMSI, and you can find the exercises here. The free online Khan Academy also offers some great videos and resources on Python and other programming languages. All of Dr. Chuck’s material is open source, and he posts all of his lectures online. This site contains slides and audio for every lecture in SI 502, and if you have the drive and patience, you could learn all you need to know before ever coming to one class. And, finally, for those students a little more tech-savvy, browsing the Python questions at Stack Overflow can give readers a great idea about what sort of problems arise when coding in Python.

Additionally, I am not the first UMSI student to feel this way. I came across a blog post on the same topic that a friend of mine wrote in 2011 that reiterates my sentiments, and you can read it in its entirety here.

Patrick Galligan

2nd year MSI interested in Information Access in Archives