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Lipscomb's Applied AI cohorts boost industries' general talent supply
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WHILE much of humankind stares like proverbial deer into the headlights of generative artificial intelligence and other forces, some Nashville institutions, entrepreneurs and other innovators are demonstrating how quickly they can iterate and innovate.

Case-in-point: Lipscomb University is now accepting applications year-round for both its new artificial intelligence-focused Master of Applied Artificial Intelligence degree, and its closely aligned Certificate of Graduate Study in Applied AI, both of which were recently approved by an accrediting body.

Lipscomb's move may seem modest to some, but VNC research suggests the curricular stratagem reflects management's close eye on market demand, a sober view of opportunity costs, plus the kind of institutional agility that could help Nashville break out of the kind of 'small market' talent ranking most recently delivered by Business Facilities.

The new Lipscomb Certificate is designed to help candidates from any discipline to advance or change their careers. Certificate and Master's students, alike, may attend courses on university grounds or virtually, real-time or asynchronously.

The Lipscomb Certificate's 9 credit-hour requirement can be satisfied within 12 months and may also be applied toward the 30-credit-hour AI master's by students who choose that 18-month journey.

Beginning Aug. 22, the first confirmed Certificate enrollees will begin Fall 2024 AI sessions. A second Certificate cohort is expected to launch in early 2025.

Candidates who seek to join the program this fall should submit their completed applications by Aug. 1, including documentation of having previously been awarded an undergraduate degree that required completion of at least some math credits in algebra basics.

The admissions process includes a brief interview, mainly to ensure each applicant's industry and discipline priorities are well supported while learning to use AI tools and techniques.

The Lipscomb AI curriculum spans AI's foundations, ethics and societal impact, and is likely over time to address AI's role in such domains as engineering, healthcare, entertainment and the arts, literature, education, environmental and sustainability science, business, finance and analysis.

Among other tasks, AI Certificate students will work on discipline-specific AI Studio projects, completion of which could also help satisfy capstone project requirements for subsequent pursuit of the AI Master's.

President Candice McQueen PhD

In March, Lipscomb University President Candice McQueen PhD MEd said of AI, in part, "This technology is a major disruptor -- and opportunity -- that is creating a shift in the workplace. AI won't replace you, but someone successfully using it will. With the knowledge to use AI successfully, professionals can harness the power of the technology for certain foundational tasks that will allow them to focus on more strategic work. Workforce demand will continue to grow rapidly as we discover new possibilities for this technology. Lipscomb University's new graduate programs are poised to produce highly trained professionals to meet these needs who will be on the frontlines as this technology continues to evolve."

Given those comments and the fact that McQueen served as Tennessee Commissioner of Education in former Gov. Bill Haslam's cabinet, it comes as little surprise that Wikipedia's entry on McQueen notes that her doctoral dissertation focused on curriculum studies.

Lipscomb's AI initiative has drawn "fairly huge" interest since its unveiling in March, according to Steve Nordstrom PhD, associate dean of Lipscomb's School of Computing and director of the new AI program, in the course of a series of VNC interviews for this story.

Nordstrom expressed confidence that, given the dozens of potentially qualified applications already received for the first AI Certificate cohort, plus growing expressions of interest from Lipscomb alumni concentrated locally and in other U.S. cities -- plus some international student interest -- the university will net-out a strong inaugural cohort.

Steve Nordstrom PhD

Nordstrom had earlier said in a Lipscomb press release that he believes the new AI initiative "fills a crucial gap in the Nashville market by providing a comprehensive AI education that caters to individuals with diverse educational backgrounds and experiences. As the demand for AI talent continues to catapult across industries such as healthcare, finance, manufacturing and entertainment, Lipscomb's program equips students with the specialized skills and expertise needed to thrive in high-demand roles covering both AI-centric jobs such as AI engineers, data scientists, NLP engineers, roboticists, AI ethicists, as well as corporate leaders, integrators, and strategists responsible for bringing these new technologies to a variety of fields."

Yesterday, he told VNC he believes Lipscomb's Applied AI thus far remains unique in the Nashville market -- and possibly beyond -- although the fact that similar and often complementary AI initiatives continue to emerge makes it imperative that Lipscomb execute with precision on white-space opportunities.

Nordstrom said pursuit of an AI initiative had been considered since mid-2023, when an informal group assembled by McQueen focused on the AI's impact and ramifications.

Some members of that 2023 study group conceived an AI Certificate initiative that could be offered to candidates in an array of industries, and then filed the idea in a suggestion box stationed in the Lipscomb provost's office. Nordstrom said that examining the initial idea led to pairing the Certificate and Master's options.

By the beginning of 2024, Lipscomb was accorded "accelerated" review of its AI accreditation request, and the wait for a SACSCOC verdict began.

Lipscomb University

Today, the AI Master's and the Certificate of Graduate Study of Applied AI are housed within Lipscomb's, School of Computing, which was, itself, created only two years ago within the Raymond B. Jones College of Engineering, which is led by Dean David Elrod PhD.

Nordstrom told VNC that plans for more cohorts in 1H CY 2025 will require adding Lipscomb's Ken Mayer Jr. D.Sc. MBA to the AI faculty. The duo will be joined by still more faculty as the AI program expands.

Nordstrom said he and others sense that "AI" is sending socio-economic "signals" of magnitude similar to those he recalls from an earlier era, when the true significance of creation of the Internet was dawning -- far before there was wide understanding of that technology's impact on the workplace or much appreciation for the economic value that innovators, entrepreneurs and small business owners would create online.

Particularly when viewed against that backdrop, Nordstrom said he believes Lipscomb's oft-cited institutional values and long-standing record of concern for contributing to "the public good" and the human condition afford the university opportunities for leadership.

It would be great if more Lipscomb alumni become involved in shaping AI-related technologies, practices and related issues, he added.

His comment seemed consistent with Lipscomb's oft-stated institutional commitment toward contributing to the betterment of those on its campus, in its community and globally, by "preparing learners for purposeful lives through rigorous academics and transformative experiences."

Steve Nordstrom is married to Hope Nordstrom EdD, who is special counsel to President McQueen and manages the Lipscomb strategy portfolio, which includes maintenance of the university's strategic plan, as amended in 2023.

The Nordstroms reside in Williamson County and have two children, who are both currently enrolled at Lipscomb University.


Steve Nordstrom, 47, is a son of Greg Nordstrom PhD, the now-retired former chair of Lipscomb's Electric and Computer Engineering Department who was, while pursuing his doctorate in engineering, operations manager within Vanderbilt's Institute for Software Integrated Systems (ISIS).

Lipscomb and other postsecondary institutions seem to be doing more with Graduate Certificates. Here is Lipscomb's current offering of Certificates.

In May of this year, Lipscomb learned that its new AI offerings had, as a result of an authorized fast-track review, been granted accreditation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).

VNC research shows AI was a discussion topic during SACSCOC's December 2023 Annual Meeting, where, for example, one panel grappled with the fact that "Generative Artificial Intelligence (AI) continues to be seen as the top emerging technology in the U.S. and world-wide. Despite its current shortcomings, it is becoming increasingly clear that AI will disrupt the way academe will work, teach, advance research agendas, and support students."

There's been no word yet regarding the agenda of the 2024 SACSCOC annual meeting, slated for Dec. 7-10, in Austin.

Lipscomb's March 28, 2024, press release on its new AI-centric program is here. The LU AI academic landing page is here.

The Lipscomb AI announcement comes amid signs that such new groups as the Nashville Innovation Alliance (currently hosted at Vanderbilt University) and the Greater Nashville Venture Capital Association (GNVCA) will join such local leaders as Nashville Entrepreneur Center to expand Nashville innovation and entrepreneurship.

VNC's coverage of Nashville-related Brookings reports and related is here. VNC's prior reporting and mentions of LipscombU are here. VNC

. last edited 2233 10 July 2024

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Tags: AI, Applied AI, artificial intelligence, Candice McQueen, certificates, David Elrod, education, Greater Nashville Venture Capital Association, Greg Nordstrom, Hope Nordstrom, Ken Mayer, Lipscomb University, Nashville Entrepreneur Center, Nashville Innovation Alliance, SACSCOC, Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, Steve Nordstrom, Vanderbilt University

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