AIMS Hits the Mark
By Vince Frieden
When Joe Budde ’06 began fielding job interview questions his senior year, he found all the answers he needed in just three letters — IMS.
Budde was one of 31 Miami University students accepted into a client-based, Interactive Media Studies (IMS) senior practicum called Armstrong Interactive. The distinctly Miami program brings together students from all corners of campus to collaborate on projects for actual, paying clients.
“Because of IMS, I gained all the experiences I needed to answer behavioral-based interview questions,” he said. “Instead of not having a clue how I’d react in a situation, I always had an example of how I’d handled a similar situation in IMS.”
Budde served as project manager for a team devising an interactive marketing piece for Miami’s Division of University Advancement. Other IMS projects have included creating Web sites, conceptualizing digital kiosks, and designing eLearning tools and search engines for prominent corporations such as Procter & Gamble, Hewlett Packard, and Cintas.
Ignoring traditional departmental boundaries, AIMS is also helping students redefine their roles.
The IMS philosophy sees digital technology as a means of teaching students to apply classroom learning while working together toward innovative, real-world solutions. It has evolved from an idea shared by a group of pioneering faculty during the formative days of the Internet. Today it features thematic sequences, a minor, and plans for a major.
On Feb. 26, 2008, the program received a transformational lift in the form of a $14.7 million commitment from Mike Armstrong ’61, retired chairman and CEO of Hughes Electronics, AT&T, and IBM World Trade.
His gift renames the IMS program the Armstrong Interactive Media Studies (AIMS) Institute and provides funding for new AIMS professorships in Miami’s schools of Fine Arts and Education, Health and Society. It also establishes a new AIMS Chair in the Farmer School of Business and provides for projects in the College of Arts and Science and School of Engineering and Applied Science.
“This is about change,” said Armstrong, whose previous gifts supported the business school’s Armstrong Chair in Network Technology and Management and the Armstrong Interactive practicum. “My hope is that this is change at the very heart of Miami’s educational experience.”
The groundbreaking AIMS concept has become the envy of institutions nationally, and faculty members Glenn Platt and Peg Faimon have presented extensively on the topic. It is considered revolutionary because it ignores traditional departmental boundaries and encourages truly interdisciplinary, cross-campus collaboration. AIMS is also redefining the student.
Provost Jeff Herbst (left) with AIMS faculty Peg Faimon and Glenn Platt.
“AIMS is about helping our students understand that they need to shed the confining definition of a student and replace it with the expanding definition of scholar, researcher, and discoverer,” said Miami President David Hodge. “In some ways, [our students] need to recognize that there is a world they can contribute to right now.”
Emily Lukasik ’07 worked on separate Armstrong Interactive projects involving a marketing research tool for Procter & Gamble and a Web site redesign for uBid.com. Lukasik, who has since been hired as a category marketing specialist by uBid.com, credits the AIMS experience with teaching her how to collaborate with professionals from other backgrounds.
“I was a marketing major, but I was working with designers, writers, and those with computer backgrounds,” she said. “It was difficult at first, but we had to learn to understand each other’s perspectives. We became each other’s teachers.”
Armstrong Interactive, which has even taken on projects in Shanghai and Ireland, requires that the students provide a 100-percent usable product by the end of the semester. The client, in turn, must implement the product as is.
“We hand it over, and they turn it on,” Platt said. “There’s no ‘We’ll take your ideas under advisement.’ The work these students do is being put to use.”
Mike Armstrong ’61 (left) with President David Hodge.
Matthew R. Borgman ’03, who has since partnered with several other Miami graduates to form the Internet strategy and development firm Pine Lake Design, worked on IMS projects for Cincinnati’s Taft Museum of Art and Procter & Gamble. His experience gave him the confidence to present ideas to senior-level executives.
“At the end of the semester, you presented the finished product to the client by rationalizing what you had done and effectively communicating your thought process,” Borgman said. “It was not like presenting to your classmates and professors for a grade. I had to learn to be comfortable presenting to companies who had paid good money and were taking our ideas very seriously. I had to uphold Miami’s reputation.”
AIMS students have more than upheld that reputation. Andrea Miller, director of corporate communications for the client, worked closely with Armstrong Interactive on a rebranding and Web site redesign.
“We were blown away by the caliber of the presentation materials,” Miller said. “One co-worker said it was better than anything an agency had ever provided us.”
Though currently there are few programs like AIMS at other schools, it is providing a glimpse into the future of higher education. According to Budde, that future will leave students better prepared for the work force.
“In school, the teacher gives you a syllabus, and you follow and execute upon that syllabus to achieve your results. In the work world, you have to design your own syllabus,” Budde said. “That’s what IMS is about. Making that transition from syllabus to creating and executing on my own was key to my career development.”
Vince Frieden is a publications assistant in advancement services at Miami.