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June 8, 2005

Honors Cooperative Program celebrates 50 years of educating professionals

By Dawn Levy

On May 20, about 200 scholars gathered in the Hewlett Teaching Center to celebrate the 50-year anniversary of the Honors Cooperative Program (HCP), established in 1954 under the leadership of Engineering Dean Fred Terman. The program allowed 23 Silicon Valley electrical engineers from General Electric, Hewlett-Packard, Stanford Research Institute and Sylvania to attend classes on campus and pursue graduate degrees on a part-time basis while keeping their day jobs. Today, more than 2,500 HCP graduates from more than 300 companies have taken courses on campus, as well as remotely using videotapes, television and the Internet. The program no longer encompasses just electrical engineering. It covers nine other engineering disciplines, as well as some disciplines outside the School of Engineering, including humanities, sciences and medicine.

"This is fundamentally a place that teaches on-campus students, and yet there are tremendous synergies in what we do in distance education and what we do with on-campus students," said Jim Plummer, dean of the School of Engineering.

Innovation-filled past

Though students initially had to come to campus to take courses, by 1969 the Stanford Instructional Television Network (SITN) was broadcasting 12 graduate engineering courses on two television microwave channels to companies within a 50-mile radius of Hoover Tower. In 1972, the program introduced tutored videotape instruction, which extended the reach of the program beyond broadcast range.

In 1986, the program first offered its Design for Manufacturability curriculum, developed with General Motors. In 1987, SITN broadcast courses to dormitories via Stanford's cable network system. In 1990, it broadcast the first live seminar via satellite network.

In 1995, the Stanford Center for Professional Development (SCPD) was created, encompassing SITN and paving the way for expanded delivery. Its offerings now include degrees (through HCP), certificates and short courses. Former Stanford computer science professor Anoop Gupta developed streaming digital video technology, which SCPD adopted in 1996 to build Stanford Online, the first university Internet delivery system incorporating text, graphics, audio and video. In 1998, SCPD delivered the first completely online master's degree program in electrical engineering.

In 1999, the newly introduced Stanford Advanced Project Management Program began to deliver courses. Led by Professor Ray Levitt, it has bestowed more than 400 credentials of Stanford Certified Project Manager.

Today, 322 HCP students are enrolled from 95 companies. Half of the master's degree programs can be completed entirely at a distance.

A videotape shown at the celebration relayed the experiences of HCP alumni. "I was able to gain some exposure to what the business world is like and found out that's something I like to do, and subsequently at Xerox I was able to move away from an engineering career path to moving into a strategic business office," said Lilly Chung, now a partner at management consultancy Deloitte.

Joe Reagan, retired from Lockheed Martin, liked learning from Stanford faculty because they were leaders in their fields. Earle Jones, retired from SRI, said he valued sharing with classmates from Lockheed, Ampex and other Silicon Valley companies.

"I was carrying a full workload with Hewlett-Packard in research and development," said Jim Hood, a former circuit-design engineer who left HP and is now president and chief executive officer of CM IT Solutions: "Come time for my classes, I [would] go over to Stanford and I was taking circuits and devices and network theory, and I'd go right back and use it."

Stanford courses anytime, anywhere

"There is a sense that it's important to have a connected learning community of some kind and that scenarios in which you have an isolated individual sitting in front of a workstation in some far-off part of the world and learning in that context is not as effective as connecting that person to a learning group or learning community," Plummer said.

Today, the Internet connects learners to Stanford courses anytime, anywhere, within two hours of the conclusion of a classroom lecture. More than 80 percent of industrial users access Stanford Online outside of regular office hours.

The program may have been established for professionals, but traditional students reap the benefits too. In fact, 71 percent of "hits" to the online server come from on-campus students, who access the material from their dorm rooms to catch up on missed lectures, review material before exams, "shop" for classes and even take two classes offered at the same time.

On-campus and off-campus students get the same material. "That's always been a hallmark of the Stanford program," said Stanford President and former Engineering Dean John Hennessy. "It makes it very different from the extension program, for example, that [the University of California] offers, where there is really different material, different audiences."

The short bridge between industry and academia that the HCP provides is a key to Stanford's success, Hennessy said. The program is built around engagement, which leads to mutual respect and an understanding of the complementary roles that universities and industry play. It enables faculty to participate in companies and understand how they work and spurs "a technology transfer record that is the envy of the world," he said.

Future shock?

What's next for the HCP? At the May 20 celebration, Andy DiPaolo, senior associate dean for the School of Engineering and SCPD executive director, spoke of creating programs to match Stanford initiatives in bioengineering, environment and energy, information technology, and nanoscience and nanotechnology; incorporating industry feedback into academic programs; catalyzing the development of learning communities across disciplines; and running experiments on new delivery technologies.

Speculating about the future of distance education elicited visions of teaching assistants available 24/7 by calling an overseas help center and assisting with lower-level course material, as well as students sitting in front of camera-bearing workstations that transmit their images to a large-screen classroom display so the instructor can interact with remote students. There were also Google dreams of searches to find the videotaped lectures by the world's expert in a topic, accessible for a nominal fee. "You can make the argument that we really only need one person in the world teaching Fourier optics, and we may as well just find the best person in the world, presumably Stanford faculty, and then that course can be made available," Plummer said.

Hennessy taught courses about microprocessors, systems programming, programming languages, compilers and computer architecture from 1977, when he arrived on campus, through the '90s, when those courses became the foundations of textbooks he co-wrote. His HCP students enhanced the Stanford classroom experience. "One of the things we really learned, and I certainly learned, from having students who were in industry participating in those courses was how to talk about material, how to make it topical, how to make it relevant, not only teaching the fundamentals, but relevant to the actual practice of engineering," he said.

"If you look at the role that Stanford has in ensuring that Silicon Valley remains the cutting-edge place for technology in the world, it's immediately clear the Honors Coop Program has played and will continue to play a role going forth," Hennessy said. "That role is of course evolving. And when I think about how that role has to evolve for the 21st century, there's a particular quote by Alvin Toffler that I like, the well-known futurist, who said: 'The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn and relearn and relearn.' And I think that's the real lesson for us going forward."

During a panel discussion, David L. Klinger, an HCP alumnus and retired executive vice president for Lockheed Martin Missiles and Space, said SCPD's offerings will need to respond to increasing industrial demand for training in models and simulations, design and verification, risk management and systems engineering. HCP alumna Lisette T. Cullinane, associate director of commercial practices and marketing support operations at Genentech, said industrial-academic alliances will continue to speed solutions to complex problems.

Jim Gibbons, former engineering dean, could not attend the celebration but sent a videotape of his remarks. He emphasized that the high level of faculty support that Stanford provides makes it difficult for the wave of schools that would like to participate in the distance learning market that SCPD serves. But that doesn't mean competitors won't try, he said, citing Carnegie Mellon's recent establishment of a satellite campus in the heart of Silicon Valley.



Dawn Levy, News Service: (650) 725-1944,


Andy DiPaolo, Stanford Center for Professional Development: (650) 723-3616,

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