Once upon a time, documents, photographs, audio recordings, and telephone and television signals used distinct technologies and seldom, if ever, crossed paths. These days—in digital form—all can travel the same network, and telecommunications companies are scrambling to take advantage of the myriad opportunities offered by this digital convergence of technologies.
mike prinzo
      The Convergence Center at the School of Information Studies opened last spring to help companies sort through technological opportunities and capitalize on those that work best for them. "This trend represents a profound change in the nature of communications," says Milton Mueller, founder of the center and director of the graduate program in telecommunications and network management (TNM). "You have to go back to the printing press in the 1500s and 1600s to find something comparable."
      Two developments within the last decade made digital convergence feasible, he says. Growth in the raw processing power of integrated circuits has allowed the staggering amount of information contained in an audio or video signal to be quickly processed, while the standardization of TCP/IP—the language computers use to talk to each other on the Internet—provides a platform for sending and receiving the information. "Digital convergence really started to have significant economic implications in the last four years," Mueller says. "That's when we started to see the rise of the Internet as a mass medium."
      With a University Vision Fund grant, Mueller created the Convergence Center to help companies examine such issues as network management, market restructuring, policy, law and regulation, and user behavior. Through the center's enhanced internship program, teams of TNM students tackle research projects with the support of a faculty member.
      School of Information Studies alumnus Bryan Behuniak '93 of Nortel Networks brought the center its first project: looking at potential services for Nortel's Succession Network, a next-generation system optimized to carry both voice and Internet services. TNM students Ahmed Youssef and Luis Rodriguez worked for three months with Behuniak, who is senior manager of marketing programs at Succession Network North American Marketing. Team members researched different types of services as well as the competition and demand for each service. Then they prepared a report and presented it to the various departments involved in developing the new network. "I have a much better understanding of the industry now—how convergence is actually happening, and how a big company like Nortel deals with it," Youssef says. "In school we talked about and studied convergence. Now I have actually lived convergence."
                                                  —GARY PALLASSINO



College of Law students who plan to practice corporate law get a realistic view of the kind of work they'll do—and pick up valuable experience along the way—in the Law and Business Enterprise Center's Corporate Counsel Certificate Program. Now in its second year, the program places students in simulations involving contract negotiations, employment problems, and intellectual property practice. "You don't normally get this type of training until you're out in the working world," says M. Jack Rudnick G'73, general counsel for Welch Allyn Inc. in Skaneateles Falls, New York.
      Rudnick and Christian Day, the center's director, teach the program's required general counsel course that places students in the corporate law office of a fictitious company. "The idea is that our students are, at least for one or two evenings a week, acting as if they were actually working in a corporate law office," says Day. "They're third-year law students, 24 to 25 years old and 9 to 12 months away from a real job, so we feel they should be exposed to the standard of work expected of them in the business or legal world." Rudnick says the approach is unique. "There may be one or two other law schools in the country that offer something like this, but their courses are based more on textbooks. Our program consists entirely of practical exercises with a heavy emphasis on writing—the kinds of things corporate clients are going to expect."
      The class works for a fictitious medical technology manufacturer called WALO, an amalgamation of Welch Allyn and Oneida Limited of Oneida, New York, where Rudnick formerly worked as general counsel. Through individual and team projects, students are challenged by a variety of problems, including termination of employees and reviews of one-sided contracts offered by major suppliers. The problems are drawn from Rudnick's own experiences. "They're not made up—we changed the names to protect the guilty," he says with a laugh. "It's the realism of the course that gives it a unique flavor. The student who is really hungry for experience gets it."
      As students work on their projects, they may encounter "bombs"—crises that pop up unexpectedly, such as a sexual harassment suit and investigation. Bombs may suddenly turn two assignments into three. "When you're in business or practicing law, your day doesn't always run according to plan," Day says. "You may think you'll work on this project, and then you get a terrible telephone call from the West Coast that requires you to drop everything."
      Day and Rudnick also bring in lawyers as guest speakers. Many are Rudnick's colleagues who are either corporate counsels or senior lawyers whose firms work closely with corporate attorneys. They address such hot legal issues as intellectual property and how corporations manage litigation costs. "We want the students to take away a common-sense approach, a business-sense approach, to legal problems," Rudnick says. "Whether they're working inside or outside a corporation, they must have that sensibility or they won't succeed. We have some very bright students, and we try to get them on a good career path."
                                            —GARY PALLASSINO

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