Program coordinator has lofty goals for the ABIT program

KA‘ANA MANA‘O

Proficiency in the potent combination of information technology, business and entrepreneurship is one of the most valuable professional skill sets in today’s world. You can achieve that proficiency right here at University of Hawaii Maui College from a teacher who has a bachelor’s degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a master’s from Columbia University, who has worked at both Oracle and Microsoft and owned his own technology businesses. Meet Debasis Bhattacharya, our ABIT (Applied Business and Information Technology) program coordinator.

He came to Maui in 2002 with plans to start a software business. Teaching was his “side gig.”

“In 2003, I started teaching University of Phoenix MBA students in the evenings. It was a specialized business class for business people that had an IT requirement. I had experience in IT and I wanted to impart that knowledge to local students,” says Bhattacharya. “And it was fun.”

Turns out, he was very good at it. He was “most surprised” when he won a teaching award in his second year. More meaningful was that his “students got a sense of technology from a practical point of view. It spurred my interest in going to the academic side.”

In 2005, our ABIT program received initial accreditation. A community advisory board is required for baccalaureate programs, and when the faculty got together to form that board they approached Bhattacharya.

“I was swept right in. Since I had a feel for the teaching side, I started mentoring students in 2005 and 2006, 2007.” Teaching had become so important to him that he actually got an online doctoral degree “as self-improvement.” “Right after I got that degree — in 2008/09 — faculty members said, ‘Why don’t you teach a class?’ and I said, ‘Why not?’

“A lot of people like me come to Maui to change what they’ve been doing before. But you don’t get grounded in the community unless you’re involved in it and contributing to it in a meaningful way — teaching was the way I could contribute. At the same time, I could continue to grow professionally and personally.”

By 2010, Bhattacharya was a faculty member. “I was one of the first to be hired full time when MCC (Maui Community College) became UH-MC. I was really attracted to joining UH-MC because of its university status. That was essentially the cap I wore from the very beginning, I wanted to fulfill the role of what the university does in the community.

“And I’d had a lot of grounding by then. My philosophy, my attitude had evolved to that of what I like to call a ‘scholar-practitioner.’ I believe you have to understand technology before you can apply it to solve society’s problems. That makes it much more fulfilling.”

And when you’re in the technology realm, you must keep current.

“The ABIT program’s curriculum has changed radically three times since 2010,” Bhattacharya said. “We have to keep up with changing technologies, make it more attractive to the students to reach their goals. We try to keep restrictions and constraints to a minimum. It’s a lot of work to change a curriculum but the benefit greatly outweighs the work. Students know when you’re teaching outdated stuff. You have to keep ahead of the game.”

He has lofty goals for ABIT. Lofty and achievable.

“In the short term — and we’re already doing this right now — we want to make ABIT as attractive and as doable as possible for local students. We don’t want them to be intimidated. We don’t want them to limit their own goals.

“My long-term goal is to have a master’s degree program at UH-MC. And that’s doable when you have a certain number of graduates. It will take a little time but I see no reason why we can’t have it here on Maui.”

That software business he came to start? “The experience of having a business fail on Maui taught me a lot. It taught me what I could and couldn’t do here. It was pivotal for what has come afterwards.”

To learn more about UH-Maui College’s Applied Business and Information Technology program, certificates and degree, please visit maui.hawaii.edu/abit/. If you already have an applicable associates degree, please visit maui.hawaii.edu/abit/abitin3/ to see how you might be able to easily transfer into the ABIT program.

* Lui K. Hokoana, Ph.D, is chancellor of the University of Hawaii Maui College. “Ka’ana Mana’o,” which means “sharing thoughts,” appears on the fourth Sunday of each month. It is prepared with assistance from UH-Maui College staff and is intended to provide the community of Maui County information about opportunities available through the college at its Kahului campus and its education centers.

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