In the interest of providing a useful, interesting and fun chronicle, what follows is a history of key events in the establishment and evolution of the MIS program at the University of Georgia. This history is based on personal recollections, discussions with those involved and assorted documents.
Please add to its richness by sending interesting/humorous/insightful remembrances about the program to Hugh Watson.
The Early Years
In 1969, the Departments of Management and Accounting created a new program called Business Systems. Though it was a joint program, it was administered and then quickly assimilated by Management. The program’s name was changed to Management Information Systems in 1971, becoming one of the first such programs in the country.
In 1970, Brooks Hall was being renovated and the Management Department was moved to the White Avenue Building. It’s impossible to find now – it was torn down in 1972 and is now part of the Holiday Inn parking lot. The Mayflower Cafe, which still is in business, was one of the most popular places for lunch with its “meat and three” options. At the time, the Last Resort wasn’t a popular restaurant, but rather, a music venue with the same name.
The Department of Management contained multiple programs – Human Resources, Organizational Behavior, Business Strategy and Operations Management. Each had its own faculty and curriculum. The first MIS faculty members included Ellis Scott, Larry Rausch, Asterios (Stell) Kefalas and Hugh Watson. Some of the MIS courses, such as Systems Analysis and Design, continue today, while most of the others have changed. For a programming language, students took COBOL, which was taught as a service course by the Computer Science Department.
The placement of MIS in Management worked well. Howard (Ted) Smith was a beloved department head who created a collegial environment that continues today. Dick Huseman, Archie Carroll and Bob Gatewood followed Ted as department heads and made many contributions. The socio-tech nature of today’s program was influenced by its placement in Management. Over time, however, as the size of the MIS program grew, it had to compete for resources with other programs in the Management Department, a factor in the decision to create a separate MIS department.
The IBM MoIS Grant
In 1984, IBM announced a $27 million grant program to support teaching and research on the management of information systems. In a highly competitive, multiple-round selection process, the MIS program at Terry was one of 13 schools (that included MIT and the University of Minnesota) selected to receive $1 million in cash, $1 million in hardware and unlimited software. The grant program ran from 1985-1990. The picture below is of Department Head Dick Huseman and MIS professor Hugh Watson.
Being a grant school was a tremendous boost to the program. It provided resources for teaching and research that would otherwise not have been available. For example, the Smart Office, a lab for teaching and research on the office of the future, was constructed in Caldwell 201 and an associated lab was built in Caldwell 205. The grant also provided credibility for the MIS program throughout the country, the university, and the college. Using grant money, many of the leaders in the MIS academic field (e.g., Paul Gray, Gordon Davis, Jack Rockart and Jay Nunamaker) came to UGA for the first time and experienced what makes Athens and MIS at Georgia so special. Grant money also allowed additional faculty to be hired.
The MIS Advisory Board
The board was created in 1984 to serve as a mechanism for interacting with the business community, especially with those companies that hire our students. Hugh Watson initiated, and continues to coordinate, the board and most of the first board members were people known to be interested in MIS education at Georgia.
meets in the fall and spring to discuss the curriculum, changes taking place in the field, recruiting our students, research opportunities and more. Each year, individual and company-sponsored scholarships are given to our best students.
Over time, the board and its activities grew. When the Terry College of Business facility in Buckhead opened, an Atlanta board meeting was created. At the first meeting, undergraduate students Viji Kannan and Jessica Marceau went along to help with the meeting and their assistance and popularity with Board members led to the inclusion of student representatives on the board. It remains one of the best board-related decisions made. Board members also speak to classes and attend various student events. The board is well known in the academic and business communities.
The picture below is from the 2019 board meeting.
The Society for Information Management (SIM) is the leading professional organization for senior MIS managers. Previously, it was called the Society for Management Information Systems. In 1984, the college applied to create an Atlanta SMIS Chapter with faculty and student members. The application was turned down, however, because it didn’t fit the model. Later, an Atlanta Chapter was created with Georgia’s MIS faculty in leadership roles. The idea of a student professional organization stuck, however, and was later created and called SMIS, which has no formal affiliation with SIM.
Hugh Watson was the first faculty advisor for SMIS, but Tex Carr, John Schleier, David Van Over and Bob Brown all took turns in later years. Hugh Head was the first SMIS student president. From the beginning, the leadership for SMIS came from the student officers. This philosophy and approach has been practiced by Mark Huber, who has been the organization’s faculty advisor since 1999. SMIS is arguably the best student professional organization on campus. This excellence is validated by SMIS being selected by the Association for Information Systems to receive its first student chapter of the year award in 2010.
Faculty and Students from Management Science
During the late 1970s and early 1980s, the Management Science Department developed a competing program to MIS. Due in part to the resources and recognition from the IBM MoIS grant, the MIS program thrived. Ultimately, the Management Science Department was disbanded and five of its faculty – Janine Aronson, Bob Brown, Pat McKeown, Andy Seila and Ton Stam – joined the MIS Department. This infusion of talent facilitated the further growth of the MIS Department. We consider all Management Science graduates to be part of the MIS family.
The Brooks Hall Fire
Brooks Hall was the home of the MIS program and the Terry College of Business for many years. This changed for two years beginning in 1995 when a fire erupted on the roof and caused the worst fire in the history of the University of Georgia. The fire raged throughout the day as hundreds of people watched firemen try to put out the blaze.
Brooks Hall was closed while renovations were made and the MIS program was moved to the Dance Building on South Campus. A lingering memory is the sound of the classes’ music and dancing. The MIS faculty soon realized how much they loved North Campus and its proximity to downtown. We quickly tired of eating at Snelling Hall and the Georgia Center for Continuing Education.
The MIS Department is Created
Due to the strong economy, dot com boom, and Y2K, there was rapid growth in MIS enrollment. The program outgrew the Department of Management. With the encouragement of Dean Al Niemi, the decision was made to create a separate department. Pat McKeown was named the first MIS Department head in 1999. As a stand-alone department, the program became more entrepreneurial.
A small cohort of students started in the Master of Business and Technology (MBT) program on the Georgia campus in Fall 2000. It was initially a joint offering of MIS, Computer Science and the New Media Institute. In 2004, the program was moved to Georgia Gwinnett College as a part-time program offered by the MIS Department. To meet increasing demand outside the Atlanta metro region, the MBT program in 2014 was retooled to be 100% online delivery. Craig Piercy has been the program’s director since 2006. In 2021, for the second year in a row, the MBT program was ranked 4th in specialized master’s in business programs by U.S. News
The MIS PhD program is one of the oldest, largest and most successful in the country. The first graduate was Michael Parks in 1973, and over the years, there have been more than 80 graduates. They have gone to prestigious universities, such as MIT and the University of Virginia, become chaired professors and held positions as department heads and deans. In the early days, Management and Computer Science faculty were very helpful in serving on dissertation committees. The involvement of Computer Science helped foster a good relationship between the two programs that continues today.
The Boom to Bust Cycle
The boom of the late 1990s turned into a bust as the economy and IT hiring and spending were cut. Student enrollment in MIS is tightly linked to the job opportunities for its graduates; consequently, the number of MIS majors declined dramatically. Much of the efforts of department heads Dale Goodhue and Rick Watson were to increase enrollment. They ran ads on the campus bus system to attract students.
Fortunately, Dean George Benson continued to support the MIS program through the lean years. Faculty positions were lost, but support for the department never wavered. This support was also extended by Dean Robert Sumichrast. Both deans had tenure in MIS even though their backgrounds were in operations management.
Over the past few years, MIS hiring and enrollment have grown significantly. Maric Boudreau has successfully led the department during this period. Currently, the demand for the MIS major is at an all-time high. In fact, it is the most difficult major to get into in the Terry College of Business, and is also at the top for job placement and starting salary. Currently, undergraduate enrollment is approaching 700.
Leaving Brooks Hall
From 1929-2017, Brooks Hall was home to the business school. As student enrollment and faculty grew, rooms were cannibalized for office space and classes were taught in Caldwell Hall, Sanford Hall and other areas of campus. There was a need for a larger, state-of-the-art home for the Terry College of Business.
Through fundraising efforts and state appropriations (a 50-50 private/public split), the money was raised to build the Business Learning Community (BLC) at the intersection of Lumpkin and Baxter streets. Correll Hall was the first BLC building, opening in 2015. The second phase included Benson Hall, Amos Hall, and Moore-Rooker Hall, and opened two years later. The fourth floor of Benson Hall is home to the MIS Department. In 2019, Ivester Hall and Orkin Hall opened and completed the world-class facilities to prepare the next generation of business leaders.
With the opening and location of the BLC, Miller Learning Center, Tate Center and Bolton Dining Commons, the center of campus activity (and traffic) shifted to the Lumpkin-Baxter intersection.
In early 2020, COVID-19 appeared in the US, and just before students returned from spring break, the decision was made to suspend classes for two weeks and then resume with online instruction. While this was challenging for faculty and students alike, many of the MIS faculty had taught online before in the MBT program and all were familiar with online technologies. It also helped that MIS students were comfortable with learning and using new technologies. Even in that unusual year, enrollment in the MIS major continued to grow.
Our department head, Maric Boudreau, worked hard to address the challenges created by the virus and to mitigate its effects. One example is that many students lost their summer internships and Dr. Boudreau worked with a variety of organizations, including non-profits and small businesses, to connect them with students who were willing to work for free in order to gain work experience.
In fall 2021, there was a return to in-person classes and events. While this was welcomed by all (Zoom fatigue), it was learned that some things, such as interviews, can be done more easily and efficiently virtually. It will be interesting to see the lasting effects of COVID-19.
Dean Ben Ayers continues the history of Terry deans supporting the MIS department. He encourages the department’s entrepreneurial spirit and asks the department to take lead on several key initiatives, including analytics. Responding to a demand in the marketplace, the department created areas of emphasis in data analytics and information security management, and a certificate program in FinTech, in addition to the usual MIS coursework. Dean Ayers is also currently working with the MIS Department to establish a new Center of Business, Systems, and Technology Innovation.
Joining SMIS, other MIS student organizations emerged, including Women in Technology, Society of Business Intelligence, Terry FinTech, Terry Student Consulting, and the Society for Cyber Security. These organizations provide students with enhanced learning and leadership opportunities and reflect the continuing enhancement of the UGA student experience.
Historically, endowments by companies and individuals are made to UGA or the Terry College of Business. In the fall of 2019, in a significant show of philanthropy, Mark Mahoney, CEO and co-founder of Jackrabbit Technologies and a 1983 MIS graduate, donated $500,000 to the MIS Department. Mark said that he hopes “This endowment will motivate others to contribute to the MIS Department so that it can better serve students and the business community.”
"I remember taking my class to a Mac lab in Aderhold (the College of Education). The lab had VisiCalc, the first electronic spreadsheet software, and a precursor to Lotus 123 and Excel."
"I taught the first programming language in the College. It was BASIC and we used Teletype machines. These machines were large, yellow, with raised keys. If you wanted to save a program, you had to output a paper tape. The fun began when you tried to input the tape and it tore."
"You could always tell a person taking a programming language (often FORTRAN or COBOL) from their card deck. You had Job Control Language (JCL) cards in front, then the program, and finally the data. You often spent more time getting the JCL right than on anything else. Many long nights were spent at Boyd Research Center where the mainframe computers were housed."
"When we had our first board meeting in Atlanta, I was uncertain about the support that would be available (such as handing out badges) and invited one of my students, Viji Kannan, who in turn asked Jessica Marceau, to help out. When we got back, Viji said that she wanted to be on the board. After I thought about it, having a student perspective was a great idea. It was perhaps the best thing that I’ve ever done with the board and it’s due to Viji. Today there are always 5-9 students on the board, and they are a great resource and a joy to work with."
"I taught an “advanced,” upper-level course called Introduction to Microsoft Office. This course covered the leading-edge WYSIWYG productivity software from Microsoft. Gone was the command line or Word Perfect field codes. Students were required to “double- click” on “icons.” One student in my class earned an interview by putting her resume in PowerPoint and turning it in to the recruiter on a floppy disk – call it UnLinkedIn."
"Reading your history this afternoon holds fond memories for me. The SmartOffice you mentioned was exceptional from a student perspective in 1987-1988. My girlfriend at the time (now wife) was in the College of Education and came by to see a presentation that I did one afternoon and she was amazed with the technology we were using. On one end of the campus we juggled the cards as you mentioned for COBOL...hoping that we did not drop the stack at the card reader and in Caldwell we were using a pre-cursor to PowerPoint...named Smart??? Then, when I landed my first job after college with DuPont as a Cobol/JCL programmer I was quickly recruited to help in this new PC/server based world that we had been exposed to at UGA...note that very few at Savannah River Site had these skills at that time...still DOS based as Windows/Office had not yet appeared...priceless experiences that I will always treasure. I am very thankful to the many faculty and staff of UGA Terry MIS."
"The first class I taught at UGA was in the Chemistry Building. Between the students and me was a large marble slab with sinks and Bunsen burners. As for instructional technology, it was just me, chalk and the blackboard. What a difference it is today in the BLC with tiered seating, a learning platform, multiple computer-driven screens, the ability to record classes and Skype in speakers. I’ve always enjoyed teaching and I used to say, “They will have to pry the chalk from my cold fingers.” Now it’s a clicker."
"As a member of the MIT classes, my memories are firmly centered around the Gwinnett campus. While there weren't many good fond memories of North Campus, I recall that the school occasionally hired a masseuse to come in and give everyone a quick de- stress massage. After the long drive from Athens to Gwinnett, it was exactly what I needed before an evening of classes."
If you have recollections to include, please send them to Hugh Watson at email@example.com.