University of St. Thomas

Creating leaders in software information technology and data science




For more than 30 years, the University of St. Thomas’ Graduate Programs in Software (GPS) has contributed to innovation by educating software information technology and data science professionals while simultaneously addressing a talent shortage in the tech industry. By listening to industry expertise, GPS provides timely, leading-edge curriculum that provides maximum value to our students and creates pathways for professionals to transition into the technology field. GPS offers four master’s degrees in software and data science and several graduate certificate programs, all designed for working professionals.

Bhabani Misra Associate Dean, Graduate Programs (Photo: Mark Brown)

Nestled against the Mississippi River and the urban landscape of Saint Paul, the University of St Thomas’ Graduate Programs in Software (GPS) generates innovation, leadership and—of course—graduates. GPS has produced more than 4,000 graduates since its 1985 inception, many of whom work for the area’s economic drivers such as 3M, Medtronic, Boston Scientific, Cargill, Mayo Clinic, and Target. Here, an industry–academia partnership creates software professionals with the know-how to lead within some of the most sophisticated and fast-moving companies on the planet.

As associate dean for the Graduate Programs in Engineering and Software, Dr. Bhabani Misra’s commitment to workforce development is well-known in the Midwest. In fact, Dr. Misra was honored with a 2017 Tekne Lifetime Achievement Award, recognizing his work with the GPS program. For more than 30 years, he’s been instrumental if not directly responsible for the pioneering programs at St. Thomas. Today, the Graduate Programs in Software at St. Thomas is one of the largest and longest-running software engineering and data science programs in the nation.

Photo: Mike Ekern

Dr. Misra is intensely focused on identifying and strategizing needs and trends. One of the most pressing current issues is a talent gap, particularly in the Twin Cities. “We have to create a higher education model that is as nimble and forward-looking as the businesses and industries we serve,” he said. “Our program addresses the gap by providing an education pathway for individuals to transition into a tech career.”

Dr. Misra’s Strategic Advisory Board, made of up nearly 20 executive leaders from a broad cross-section of industry, meets twice-yearly to advise Misra and his department leaders. Cultivated and curated, the board identifies and communicates the technical and workforce needs for the region, which in turn translates into actionable information for faculty and, subsequently, changes to the curriculum.

St. Thomas is the largest private university in Minnesota, with 10,000 students—40% of whom are graduate students. Of those, nearly a quarter are enrolled in programs in Graduate Engineering and Software Programs. Nearly 33% of the GPS students are international, and 35% are women. Ages range from 22 to 64, with an average age of 34. Almost 43% are people of color. A full one-third are “career changers,” making the leap to an entirely new industry. Almost all students are adult professionals, with jobs and families.

One of the program’s most significant successes is the Master’s Program in Data Science. While private sector data scientists were implementing big data, artificial intelligence, and machine learning, the University of St. Thomas was the first to capture the movement in academics, launching the degree in 2014. So much so that no suitable textbooks were available, requiring the professors to develop the both courses and the accompanying learning materials. It’s a popular field of study, with 350 enrolled students in a given term. The components of the Data Science degree require constant innovation while emphasizing rigorous, realistic preparation of practitioners.

“The courses themselves undergo revision and updating to reflect technology trends and changes,” Dr. Misra said. “And our students are in demand. Most are hired halfway through their degree program.”

In addition to master’s degrees, GPS offers an assortment of micro-credentials, centering  on specific competency areas—perfect for a working professional. Without a long-term commitment and at a low cost, these shorter dives into learning are more accessible to a wider range of learners. With five-course programs, weeklong mini-master’s programs, and a handful of related and specialized offerings, the school provides relevant training with a quick response time. “It’s a new way of thinking about the reality of today’s software professionals,” said Dr. Misra.

“This is lifelong learning in higher education. We must consider that many students will graduate, work for a few years, and come back for periods of study and learning. This is the future.” Most GPS instructors are deeply immersed in their subject matter, and often industry leaders themselves. A full 50% of courses are taught by working professionals—people carefully selected based on education, work experience, expertise, and enthusiasm. The courses are relevant for another important reason: They’re designed for adult learners. Courses meet once a week during evenings or on Saturdays and operate on a non-cohort model, allowing students to work fulltime and maintain a personal life while studying.

The GPS program and Dr. Misra and are both a product and producer of a robust, engaged community. In such a forward-looking field, the intersection between theory, workforce, and workplace is an exciting place to be. “The task we set for ourselves is really about envisioning the future,” Dr. Misra said. “We’re building an ecosystem of software engineer, data scientists, and information technology professionals who can shape not just our region’s socioeconomic systems. Our graduates are all over the globe, building organizations as stakeholders and leaders.”

Graduate Programs in Software at University of St. Thomas offers master’s degrees in:

  • Software Engineering
  • Data Science
  • Information Technology
  • Software Management

Certificate Programs in:

  • Artificial Intelligence
  • Big Data
  • Business Analysis
  • Data Management
  • DevOps
  • Embedded Systems
  • Enterprise Computing
  • Healthcare Analysis
  • Internet of Things
  • Advanced Study

Other INNOVATE® Ecosystems