The minor is within the information and communication technologies undergraduate program in the College of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. The minor includes a course on search engine optimization (SEO), believed to be the first of its kind in the nation in postsecondary education.
Thomson Reuters is supporting the effort with a financial donation, as well as helping with curriculum development and providing instructors for the SEO course. The donation, spread over five years, has led to the establishment of the Thomson Reuters Web Development Program Fund at the Stout University Foundation.
"This is a fine example of how UW-Stout works with private industry to solve problems and help grow the economy," said Chancellor Charles W. Sorensen. "This collaboration will benefit our students, Thomson Reuters and other companies who need employees with these hard-to-find skills."
The collaboration grew out of a tour that Sorensen took of the Thomson Reuters facility in Eagan, Minn., at the invitation of UW-Stout alumnus Craig Yolitz, vice president of Customer Operations for FindLaw, a Thomson Reuters business. FindLaw provides online marketing services to lawyers. Thomson Reuters has more than 7,000 employees in Minnesota, including more than 60 UW-Stout graduates.
Yolitz told Sorensen that FindLaw, as well as other Thomson Reuters businesses, were having a hard time locating and hiring employees with Web technology skills, especially in the area of search engine optimization. SEO involves designing websites and their content to make them more easily identified and indexed by search engines, such as Google, Yahoo and Bing.
Yolitz added that FindLaw was looking for a partner to help address this talent shortfall. Sorensen returned to campus and asked faculty and administrators to begin working on a solution for Thomson Reuters.
The Web technology minor is being offered for the first time this fall, said Steve Schlough, a professor and chairman of the apparel and communication technologies department, who worked with Assistant Professor Kevin W. Tharp on the effort.
An important piece of the minor is the SEO course. FindLaw and UW-Stout partnered to develop the curriculum, and the course will be taught by industry experts from FindLaw.
"The internet has become so ubiquitous in business that a broad understanding of Web technology is essential to success in almost any aspect of business in which you are seeking a career," said Tharp, adviser for the minor.
"Employers are seeking to hire people who have a strong and broad grounding in modern communications technology process and techniques, but there are not enough of these people to fill those high demand and high paying jobs."
Tharp said the Thomson Reuters donation will be used to support faculty in creating and maintaining the knowledge and skills necessary to develop the minor's curriculum "in fields where the theory is still emerging and some aspects of practice change on a daily basis."
The donation also will help the university market the program and "strive toward a world-class program of teaching, research and development," he said.
Thomson Reuters decided to get involved in the venture, Yolitz said, "because, to our knowledge, no postsecondary institution teaches this type of curriculum, particularly in SEO, either in part or in its entirety. FindLaw, as well as the industry overall, is in need of talent with these core skills and knowledge. UW-Stout has the right foundational pieces in place that can be built upon, and the university's representatives have been responsive and open to listening and adapting."
The development of this program is a win-win for all parties," Yolitz continued. "It benefits Thomson Reuters, UW-Stout and its students, as well as communities and employers throughout the Upper Midwest and beyond."
Mark Parsons, UW-Stout vice chancellor for University Advancement and Marketing, and Roland Carter, UW-Stout development officer, were involved in establishing the development fund for the Stout University Foundation.
"Such a robust collaboration with a prominent industry leader like Thomson Reuters will enable UW-Stout to establish a center of excellence for Web development studies," Parsons said, "and provide high quality student recruits for Web-related careers in business and industry."
The 21-credit minor includes courses in information and communication technologies, Web production and distribution, Web technologies and search engine optimization.