Meet our faculty: Leona Mitchell
In 2015, Leona Mitchell joined the iSchool as a Professor of Practice. Utilizing her 30+ years of business, entrepreneurial, technical, sales, and leadership expertise, Mitchell has created courses and experiences that increase our undergraduates’ knowledge and help them build the necessary skills to be successful as technology professionals.
A graduate of the iSchool’s MSIS program, Mitchell began her career at IBM in Pittsburgh as a Systems Engineer. During her tenure there, she held various executive leadership roles in sales, marketing, consulting, channel management and business transformation.
Since joining the iSchool as a faculty member, Mitchell has created learning opportunities that give students more insight into the information technology industry as well as a better understanding of the information professional’s role in business. Her class “Analysis of Information Systems,” for example, is a team-based class that presents students with a problem and tasks them to create a viable solution. Teams must create a solid plan—complete with market research, a business model, a feasible product design, and a marketing strategy—and present it to a group of stakeholders.
Most recently, she mentored a team of undergraduate students in the Randall Family Big Idea Competition, which is an experience-based learning opportunity that pushes Pitt students to present their innovative ideas as complete, marketable startup concepts. TravelRoots, a travel site that uses a person’s DNA to create a customized travel experience, was initially created by the team during Mitchell’s Analysis of Information Systems class in Fall 2016. The team won second place in the overall competition on Thursday, March 23.
How important is it to expose students to real-world experiences during their education?
Giving students industry-like experience early on is critical to their success. One example of this is through team-based learning projects. Students are expected to apply and interview for a spot on the team, just like they would in a real-world consulting job. The selected team is presented with a client problem, and the team is tasked with providing a functional solution within the semester.
The projects were created in collaboration with another Professor of Practice here, Dmitriy Babichenko. We have completed three with the City of Pittsburgh’s Department of Innovation and the feedback has been very positive.
The benefits of projects like these are two-fold. First, students get real-world experience dealing with clients, multidisciplinary teams, and conflict-resolution scenarios. Secondly, as a school, we enhance our reputation throughout the community as experts and problem solvers.
What has been your greatest accomplishment (either personally or professionally)?
The most important aspect of my life has always been my family and friends. I look at my daughter and see the person she has become and it makes me incredibly proud. I see my husband—my partner of thirty years—and feel very blessed. I feel very fortunate to share a close relationship with my brother, who, though I don't get a chance to see very often, is always there for me. My friends are also very special and make such a difference in my life. To me, family and friends are the most important things.
What drew you to joining the faculty here at the iSchool?
After 33 years in industry, I was ready for a different challenge. One of the biggest issues employers face is being able to on-board university hires more quickly and more successfully. I felt I could use my industry experience to help students understand real-world challenges—many of which were challenges that I faced throughout my career—and help them be better prepared. On a higher level, I want our students to be able to make an immediate impact and distinguish themselves as IT professionals. I feel that this can best be done by not only giving them the necessary technical skills and knowledge, but also by providing them with a well-rounded view of the industry—including business, financials, marketing, and leadership training.
What has your experience been teaching so far?
Teaching and working with students has been a rewarding experience. Attending the recent Randall Big Idea Competition and seeing our students win is a great example of that. The staff and faculty have also been extremely helpful and have worked closely to help bring me on-board. The support has been tremendous! I am delighted to be working with such a dedicated and talented team.
What would you like to see for the school (or the undergraduate program) moving into SCI?
I really want to make sure we keep our identity. Being a computer scientist and being an information scientist are two similar, but also different, professions. Though we share many skills, the way we apply those skills and use them to solve problems is different. That being said, there is great synergy between our two disciplines, and we can create a school that provides a richer more expansive learning experience for our students.
For the undergraduate program, I have been a strong proponent of launching tracks that tie to professional career roles. Those tracks will not only help differentiate us and give us stronger visibility, but will position our students more competitively in the market.