"Wait, I'm sorry, your major is what?"
"What would you do with that?"
Those are questions that I receive all the time when I tell people that I am an Information Systems major. While the IS major at Smith is highly noted, not many people know what they can do with it or even what it is. This week I met with one of Smith's greatest assets in the field, Dr. Ritu Agarwal. She is a teacher in the graduate program at Smith, the Deans Chair for Information Systems, and the Director of the Center for Health Information and Decision Systems. Even while being involved in a whole host of other activities, she still finds time to go hiking and run marathons.
I started with the basics: what exactly is Information Systems? Information systems, she told me, is the science of how information technology (IT) can be used to deliver business value; and it involves understanding how systems are conceptualized, designed, and implemented. IT has become the foundation on which society runs, it can be used to strategically improve performance in all types of areas, and all businesses are now dependent on some type of information technology to achieve their goals.
This answer led me ask what people do after studying Information Systems. Dr. Agarwal replied that there is a variety of options in this field, from managing and guiding information systems investments for a company to consulting on systems solutions to fit a specific company's needs. However, one should note that familiarity with a wide range of business concepts is necessary in this field; one must be more than simply tech savvy.
Dr. Agarwal then attacked the question of why Smith is the best place to pursue an IS degree. She told me that we have a long history of a successful IS major, great faculty, and the right combination of business and technology skills. We have always been featured and recognized in the IS field, and there is strong demand for this major, despite a short decline after the dot.com burst. She spoke about how you can't be a 21st century manager without Information Systems knowledge. Again, Dr. Agarwal stressed the importance of a deep, solid foundation in business beyond information technologies. It is also wise to remain informed on current events in order to better understand how the business landscape is changing as time progresses and newer technology is launched.
Her favorite things about Smith? The vibrant intellectual community she gets to interact with, (both students and faculty), and the number of exciting things that go on here (like the new Social Value Creation program-something that actually affects the world). If Dr. Agarwal could everything just one thing about Information Systems, she would say that Smith is the best place to study IS. The geographic area in which we reside gives us a profound advantage due to the close proximity of Washington, D.C., where change happens. Take it from me, it's an exciting field, and Dr. Agarwal was really helpful and wonderful to speak to. So, next time you are curious about your major (or anything in which you're interested), just head straight to the source and talk to one of Maryland's fine faculty members.