INTERACTIVE;MEDIA & MARKETING;CYBER-GRADS: SAVVY STUDENTS HIT THE NET;COLLEGES RACE TO MEET DEMAND FOR EMPLOYEES WITH INTERACTIVE MEDIA EXPERIENCE

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Bob Allen likes this time of year.

It's when the managing partner at interactive agency Modem Media, Westport, Conn., takes a break from working on marketers' Web sites to look at all the resumes that flood his desk.

"Recruiting from the college ranks has become a focus as business has increased exponentially," said Mr. Allen.

BOOMING YEAR FOR GRADS

This marks one of the first years where a significant number of graduates are leaving college with a concentration in interactive media.

It's a concentration so new, in fact, that it's difficult to determine the number of schools offering such a curriculum. A few colleges, however, claim to be a cut above the rest.

Brent Baker, dean of Boston University's School of Communication, requires all communications students to take his "Perspectives on Communication" course, in which e-mail accounts, newsgroup use and virtual discussions are standard. His students learn the basics of CD-ROM and Web technology, which some put to use publishing "Loci," (http://www.loci.com) a Web magazine created by students and sponsored by Barnes & Noble.

BIGGER SALARY POTENTIAL

Interactive experience can mean bigger salaries for new graduates. In an informal study, Mr. Baker found that graduates with a master's degree in advertising and no multimedia experience earn an average of $25,000 to $30,000. With multimedia experience, salaries increase to $40,000 to $65,000.

"We know that in advertising you've got to differentiate yourself from the next guy," he said.

Professor John Leckenby teaches a graduate advertising seminar at the University of Texas at Austin called "Advertising and the New Media."

One of the challenges, he said, is striking a balance between discussing theoretical concepts and getting students involved in the Internet.

This semester, seven Texas students created a site that teaches people how to effectively use advertising on Web sites. The result was web.@dvertising (http://uts.cc.utexas.edu/;echo/cover.html).

Although this kind of experience doesn't guarantee that a graduate will be hired, it can't hurt, Mr. Leckenby said.

"In such a changing field, you have to catch as catch can," he said. "But it's great to have a foundation."

Ask most professors where they get their own foundation and they'll probably say from Internet guru Donna Hoffman, a professor at Vanderbilt University's Owen Graduate School of Management.

Ms. Hoffman's Project 2000 (http://www2000.ogsm.vanderbilt.edu) is a five-year research effort devoted to the marketing implications of computer-driven environments, such as the Web.

Owen business students can specialize in electronic commerce as part of their degree program.

"Teaching this new technology is enormously difficult but incredibly exciting," said Ms. Hoffman. "For me, it's the ride of a lifetime because it changes right before our eyes."

Several schools offer concentrations in interactive media.

California State University-Hayward last year began offering a master's degree in multimedia. Similarly, faculty at Oregon State University created an interdisciplinary undergraduate minor in interactive multimedia. And both New York University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology have been churning out interactive media specialists for several years now.

HARD TO STRUCTURE A DEGREE

But for most schools, the nascent field makes it difficult to structure a multimedia degree program.

In an environment where textbooks can be obsolete before they're even printed, professors try instead to expose their students to as much of the Internet as they can.

For people like Modem's Mr. Allen, it's essential that new recruits know both multimedia technology as well as the basic principles of marketing.

But as graduation looms on the horizon, students who don't know HTML from VRML from URL don't necessarily have to worry.

"I'm looking for smart people who can think strategically and creatively," Mr. Allen said. "Interactive experience isn't a requirement, but it's a plus."

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