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An Overview of RFID Education at the College Level

Colleges are increasingly including RFID education in their curricula at all levels to help engineering, business, and IT students apply the technology. This articles describes the types of RFID programs colleges offer. Part 2 will provide details and contact information for more than a dozen programs.
Jan 31, 2008This article was originally published by RFID Update.

January 31, 2008—Today's college students can leave school with something most who went before them couldn't: training and education in RFID. RFID-related courses are available to students from the community college to postgraduate levels, and there are a wide range of educational opportunities in between. RFID education isn't just for students; several hundred professors have also received training on how they can incorporate RFID into their own curricula.

"In our classes we're not debating if RFID is going to come. We focus on how our students can make it work and integrate it into systems in the real world," Dr. Erick Jones of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln told RFID Update. "We try to help our students understand RFID is here to stay."

Jones directs one of the more established university education programs. Nebraska offers a course focused on RFID, RFID in Logistics, but also covers RFID in other engineering and business classes. The university has an extensive RFID lab stocked with RFID and material handling equipment that students use for coursework. Jones also co-authored a just-released textbook, RFID in Logistics: A Practical Introduction, that he hopes will introduce RFID to logistics and material handling classes at other schools. Demand for the Nebraska RFID course has been so high that the university will soon begin offering an online version through its extended education program.

RFID courses are typically offered by university engineering, business, and IT departments. A few schools offer RFID certificate programs: Middlesex Community College in Massachusetts has a certificate program geared toward preparing students to install and service RFID equipment, while Boise State University and the University of Alaska Anchorage have a joint graduate certificate program in supply chain management with a strong RFID focus.

Many more schools offer specific RFID courses, and reference RFID in other classes. More still hold lectures, workshops, and other events on various aspects of RFID technology. Several dozen schools around the world have RFID labs, which are often used by students as part of their class work and may also be used for research and commercial services. (RFID Update has a listing of more than 50 private, public, and university-based RFID labs here.)

There do not appear to be any universities offering degrees in RFID, which one educator thinks is a good thing. "We don't offer a degree in RFID, and I'm not aware of anyone who does," said Dr. Bill Hardgrave of the University of Arkansas, which has a large RFID research center and education program. "We intentionally don't offer an RFID degree, because we don't want our graduates to be too narrowly focused. If all goes well, eight or ten years from now RFID will be ubiquitous."

According to Jones at Nebraska, most university-based RFID classes are offered through business departments, followed by engineering departments, with a much smaller number in IT departments. Growing RFID adoption in many industries is probably why the technology is increasingly being studied in business departments. Jones directs an engineering-based program, and worries that non-technical courses may create unrealistic expectations about RFID technology. "My big concern is that a lot of colleges seem to be jumping on the RFID bandwagon," Jones said. "They could be doing RFID a disservice by focusing on its future uses and benefits. Others schools take a more holistic approach and help students understand where and how RFID should best be used."

Few businesses anywhere were using RFID more than 20 years ago when Dr. James Fales at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio, first began offering engineering students instruction in the technology. Ohio U. was one of the first, if not the first, colleges to include RFID and other automatic identification technologies in its curriculum. Today most university-based RFID education can be traced back to Fales and Ohio U. because of the unique nature of the university's programs. Besides teaching students and operating a technology lab, for the past 21 years Fales has conducted the AIDC Technical Institute, a weeklong summer program where professors from around the world come to learn about RFID and other technologies and how they can incorporate them in their curricula. Between 250 and 300 professors are alumni of the program.

"But that isn't really reflective of the number of people we've impacted. To get that you have to multiply the number of professors by the number of students they teach," said Dr. Kevin Berisso, who took over the program for the recently retired Fales and is also director of the Ohio University AIDC Lab.

Fales' efforts to promote AIDC education earned him the industry's Percival Award in 1998. Many alumni of the AIDC Technical Institute have gone on to start AIDC courses and research at their own universities.

Today there are probably more RFID classes and programs at universities than ever before. Next week RFID Update will publish a listing of college-level schools and programs.
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