From Borders to Bosnia: Odyssey of a Seidenberg Alumnus

In 1996 I accepted a position maintaining the literature section at the Borders Bookstore location in White Plains.  Although I had earned a BA and an MA in history, I still hadn't found a career path that combined my eclectic interests in the humanities and sciences.  The literature section of Borders served as a personal incubator for career planning.  Friends and colleagues browsed the books on the shelves as we discussed the discrepancy between the neatly stacked rows of tomes and the emerging world of technology-driven information.  Conversations ranged from light topics such as travel in Eastern Europe to heavy debates about the details of the newly signed Dayton Accord that brought peace to Bosnia.  Many of these conversations were informative and enjoyable, but only one such conversation changed my life.

In the course of a conversation about literature, a friend suggested that I apply for admission and a graduate assistantship at Pace University's School of Computer Science and Information Systems (CSIS).  Initially, this suggestion did not seem plausible or even possible.  How could I expect to undertake a graduate degree in computer science without a single math or science course much less a computing course on my undergraduate transcript?  My friend explained that CSIS designed its programs so that career-changers could obtain the basic background to pursue graduate study in computer science through a series of prerequisite “bridge” courses.  Moreover, my friend pointed out that my MA in history provided a better grounding for computer science studies than I might have thought by asking: "Didn't you build a database to analyze historical data?  Pace offers courses in database design, you know."  By June 1997, I had been admitted to the MS in computer science program and began working as a graduate assistant for the Pace Computer Learning Center.  

The CSIS program with its balance of theoretical and practical education provided the foundation for a career that has survived the volatile economy of the past decade.  After completing my MS in computer science in 1999, I worked at a consulting firm specializing in enterprise resource planning systems.  Although the bubble burst shortly thereafter, I managed to continue working in the field.  In the summer of 2000, I returned to Pace in the role of senior technical architect to help CSIS manage its growing hardware, software, and data needs.  After earning a Doctor of Professional Studies in Computing in 2005, I worked as a software developer at a company specializing in educational data warehouses.  In the course of a decade, my career took me across the country as a consultant, a system administrator, and a software engineer.

My Pace education even enabled an international career in education.  In 2008, I accepted a position as a professor at the American University in Bosnia and Herzegovina in the College of Information Technology.  My wife and I moved to Tuzla, Bosnia and Herzegovina where we lived for two years teaching and traveling throughout the Balkans.   We had the incredible opportunity of working with students, faculty, and staff dedicated to rebuilding their country.  In many cases, the students traveled for hours each day through the mountains in eastern Bosnia to attend class.  Despite the challenges, students persisted in achieving what they considered to be the gold standard in education: a degree from an American university.  The sacrifices made to achieve this goal humbled us.  Some students and their parents worked as contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan in support of US war efforts.  Others accepted dangerous jobs as deminers, experts in the dismantling of landmines, to pay for their education. 

Teaching in Bosnia requires a strong head, strong shoulders, and a strong stomach.  The educational, legal, and administrative cultures in Bosnia are very different from those in the United States.  For example, the accreditation process in Bosnia depends almost entirely on legal requirements specified by the country's Ministry of Education.  As the Dean of the College of Information Technology, my job required that I implement these laws while respecting the Bologna Process and the curricular needs of partner institutions in the United States.  Moreover, given the unique structure of Bosnia and Herzegovina as defined in the Dayton Accord, the University also had to contend with a number of local legal entities that complicated the operations of the institution.  Although these issues were challenging, they afforded us the opportunity to contribute to Bosnia’s brilliant culture and promising future.

Our adventures abroad, however, did not stop in Bosnia.  We worked in Albania as English teachers and consultants.  We traveled to the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Austria, Slovenia, Hungary, Croatia, Montenegro, Serbia, Kosovo, Albania, Macedonia, Italy, Greece, and Turkey.  After two years of intense work and travel, we decided it was time to come home.  Currently, I am the Visiting Assistant Professor of Information Technology Leadership at Washington and Jefferson College in Washington, Pennsylvania.  My Pace education has taken me around the world as a consultant, administrator, developer, and teacher.   My career in information technology lasted longer than the Borders Bookstore in White Plains where I first started out.  If my career outlasts the next wave of automation currently taking place, then I will certainly have Pace University and the Seidenberg School of Computer Science and Information Systems to thank for it.