GCN Hall of Fame
How NDU's Childs gave iCollege a global scope
- By William Welsh
- Oct 16, 2013
When Robert Childs became dean of faculty and academic programs at the National Defense University in 1991, he began a long march toward turning NDU’s iCollege from a traditional IT management school into an 21st century academy equipped to educate the next generation of leaders in the risks and realities of digital government.
In the 22 years since, Childs has worked tirelessly to expand the iCollege’s core curriculum, with the aim of making it a institution of higher technology learning on the global stage.
In 2010, he and his staff reached a key milestone on that path when the Education Department approved iCollege’s Government Information Leader Master of Science degree program.
“That program is growing,” Childs said. “We have close to 300 students in the program now.” Altogether, 16,000 students have completed programs at NDU’s iCollege as of fall 2013, he said.
For that achievement and others, iCollege has been designated as a National Center of Academic Excellence in Information Assurance Education and is regarded as an international pioneer and leader in cyber leadership education.
The aim of going global was an epiphany of sorts, and it came as Childs and his staff were preparing for iCollege’s 20th anniversary.
At the time, iCollege served only U.S. students, most of them living in and around Washington, D.C., said Childs, who also serves as NDU's deputy president for cyber and information.
“We were reflecting on what we were doing as we were putting on this big celebration,” said Childs. “All of the sudden we had a real wake-up experience.”
Childs and his colleagues envisioned reaching beyond the confines of D.C. to turn iCollege into a global hub. With funding from the Defense Department’s CIO office, iCollege was able to partner with foreign defense ministries in Europe, the Pacific Rim and the Middle East to gather and share knowledge on cyber-related topics.
“We started picking up unique knowledge that we were bringing back to the college, as well as sharing knowledge,” Childs said. “And we were dealing with a very high level of people on an international level. That had never been done before.”
Because of the domestic and global ties Childs helped forge, students benefit from educational resources from world-class educational centers, such as the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University and the London School of Economics.
The college produces more CIOs than any other institution, Childs said. Besides teaching future CIOs for DOD and the military services, iCollege also grooms CIOs for many federal agencies through cooperative agreements.
In 2008, iCollege established a Chief Financial Officer’s academy within its walls. “Having CIOs and CFOs in the classroom is good because you need to look at technology as part of your strategic plans,” Childs said. “The CFO academy was a huge step forward.”
Childs hopes his successor will pursue the establishment of a chief human relations officer (CHRO) academy as well, Childs said.
“There’s kind of a triumvirate when you look at the C-level of people,” Childs said. “You have the CIO, CFO, and CHRO. We never really cracked that one. I think we need to bring that program in under us.”
While Childs’s experiences have helped transform the scope of military technology education in the last 20 years, it has had an equal impact on his own growth as a leader.
“As dean of faculty and academic programs I was an inside guy,” Childs said. “But as chancellor, I have to be the outside guy. I have to work interagency, I have to work international, and I have to work with corporations. People wouldn’t guess this, but I am a natural introvert and the job calls for an extrovert. So I had to change my skill set.”
David Wennergren, who held several executive titles at DOD before leaving earlier this year for CACI, called Childs “a truly innovative spirit and a perpetual energy machine” who was regularly looking over the horizon for new opportunities. “Bob was has always been a step ahead, with a new course offering, a new approach, or a new program ready to be deployed.”
He recalled a time at a cloud conference when Childs convinced him to play the “voice of God” in a video, setting Noah (Childs) on a course toward building a cloud computing vision. “He is the visionary who has repeatedly seen the next flood coming,” Wennergren said, “and created the learning environment for IT professionals around the world to survive and thrive.”
Read about more 2013 GCN Awards winners.