The iSchool’s immersion trips are often a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, providing undergraduate and graduate students with a week-long trip to visit top startups and tech companies and gain solid footing in the Information Technology industry.

Immersion programs also provide full-circle opportunities for students to become acquainted with distinguished alumni who have paved their way from the same mold – that of the iSchool and its alumni network and industry connections. For aspiring information and technology workers today, pursuing a career in information technology is as much about establishing connections who will serve as mentors throughout the job search process as it is about presenting a polished resume.

That’s why the iSchool’s immersion trips are so valuable, students say. They provide insider perspectives, hands-on experience, and tangible network connections that allow students to become standout candidates for hiring. The immersion experience is how Syracuse University alumnus Rob Harris ’77 G’79 first became acquainted with the iSchool.

Harris earned his undergraduate degree at Syracuse University in Rehabilitative Services from The School of Education, and later obtained a master’s degree in Rehab Counseling. Nevertheless, he considered himself more businessman than educator.

So, in 1983, Harris started building his company, Pacific Market International, with a modest $1,200 investment and a curiosity for international trade. He has grown the company into a global brand marketing and product innovation company, and he’s regarded as an expert in creating long-term shareholder value, principles over profit, and sustainable business practices.

As a stop on one of the iSchool’s immersion trips, Harris found that his successes in business and his passion for educating put him in the prime position to give back to the students of the iSchool. In 2019, he provided a generous donation of $250,000 to iSchool immersion programs specifically to help students be able to afford to attend them.

Harris was initially impressed by the structure of the immersion trips, as well as the iSchool’s commitment to these students’ experiences, he says. “Immersions provide the opportunity for students to get out and visit world-class companies. They are really innovative opportunities. CEOs are really hard to get to, but as a student [on an immersion trip], you can get to them [directly].” Similarly, he says, the iSchool’s immersions provide authentic experiences from a CEO’s perspective. “It’s pure, because people are coming in to learn, and that’s all they want from you. That’s nice and refreshing.”

His time at Syracuse quickly led him to the realization that he had an inclination to teach and help others learn, Harris says, citing both a daughter and son-in-law who are in the professional education field.

That sense of wanting to give back led him to establish The Rob Harris ‘77, G’79 Fund for Student Immersion Experiences. The allocation provides funds that reduce program fee expenses for all of the iSchool’s domestic immersion experiences, Spring Break in Silicon Valley, EntreTech NYC, Peak2Peak, and TechTrek Chicago.

Although Harris’ gift was donated just over one year ago, he’s already enjoyed having students directly express their gratitude, he reports. “A number of the students on the Peak2Peak program trip last fall said they couldn’t have come on the program without the scholarship. That’s incredibly meaningful to me.”

It was incredibly meaningful to the iSchool to have those resources, too, and last fall, the iSchool named Harris as one of five Syracuse University alumni honored with special recognition.

Although Harris, who is based in Seattle, hadn’t returned to Syracuse University for a long time, he said he was humbled to receive the iSchool’s Impact of the Year award at a place that still feels like home. “I realized through this process that I bleed Orange. My heart belongs to Syracuse.” And of the information field, he adds, “There is no question that information is king, and information management is the future. I’ve come to realize how powerful and crucial the iSchool is to the future of our society.”

By Marcella Desharnais