Vermont's Partner in Education

IBM walks the talk

by Virginia Lindauer Simmon


We didn't fully appreciate what we were getting into when we asked IBM for an interview about its commitment to education. We knew the commitment has been significant we've covered it before, as in our 1991 feature story about Chris Kapsalis, whom IBM lent to then-Commissioner Rick Mills at the state department of education for two years to help them understand how to apply business quality processes to education.

Before a corporation moves to get involved in the community at large, it must decide what's important to the corporation's values, to the employees, to the customers and to greater society, says John O'Kane, manager of government and community relations at IBM in Essex Junction. For IBM, that something was education. What follows is a too short accounting of the major and ongoing contributions by IBM to education in Vermont.

A student with her IBM mentor during a middle school "Shadow Day" career event.

• The company supported the application for the Vermont Institute of Science, Math & Technology with a $25,000 grant to help apply to the National Science Fund State Systemic Initiative, which resulted in its creation. The company also supported the organization after its creation with volunteers who served on the board and grants of technology to support the work they were doing.

• In April 1995, Vermont's department of education was one of a small number of school systems state or urban systems chosen to participate in IBM's Reinventing Education grant program. "The corporation was looking for a few school systems working on education reform that were at a point where they felt technology could really help them make that next leap," says Marian Lawlor, program manager for education outreach, corporate community relations. "Because of the vision of the department of education Rick Mills and the people he had helping him: the superintendents' association, the principals' association, some others they were chosen." The grant was $2 million $500,000 in cash to the state and $1.5 million for goods, technology and services from IBM. This was not a case of "write a check and walk away," says Lawlor. "We were there as they helped us define what the issues were, what the technology was that would help them address the issues concerned."

Vermont was not eligible for Reinventing Education II, because "they were taking tools developed in part I and offering them up to schools in other places," says Lawlor. Vermont did qualify for a third round of grants, Reinventing Education III a teacher professional development grant submitted by a consortium, the Vermont Public Education Partnership. It included the Vermont Mathematics Partnership, a separate organization with a $7.5 million National Science Foundation/U.S. Department of Education grant working on preparing math teachers in Vermont. One of the results is the IBM Reinventing Education Change Tool Kit. Based on the work of Harvard Business School Professor Rosabeth Moss Kanter, it is a secure website available to anyone working in improving education for students ages 5 to 18.

• Out of Reinventing Education came a software tool called Learning Village, which Vermont has installed, that allows every K-12 public school teacher access free of charge. It helps teachers connect their classroom lessons to the Vermont Framework of Standards and helps connect teachers in very rural areas to other teachers and resources throughout the state, says Lawlor.

• There are a number of pilot programs, such as one that looked at having students in education programs at Castleton State and UVM critique each other's work and provide feedback; and another one at Johnson State that looked at how the college can provide support to graduates as they begin their first jobs.

• A $1.5 million pilot program is working with the education department and the Vermont and local standards boards to see how to supply more consistent support for teachers in the relicensing process.

• Volunteer initiatives include National Engineers Week Discovering Engineering outreach, where technical employees are encouraged to go into schools and do hands-on science or math activities with students in grade school and high school; an e-mentoring program pairing IBMers one-on-one with students, in this case, says Lawlor, primarily at Winooski Middle School; and a program called EXITE (Exploring Interests in Technology and Engineering), which this year, has partnered with four middle schools Browns River, Milton Junior High, Winooski and Edmunds to bring 32 girls to IBM for a week-long day camp focused on learning about technology. This year's week is July 26-30. The girls do a long-term, hands-on project, and each girl will have an IBM professional as a mentor during the following year.

• Other areas include the company's involvement in planning now under way on the Chittenden County technical center, says O'Kane. "We have partnered with UVM, the Vermont state colleges; and we were the first in the state to put them in the education business for businesses." A dozen IBMers serve as faculty in the UVM College of Engineering, adds Lawlor, who also mentions programs that allow employees to obtain matching grants for computers in schools, and LifeWorks, a program that helps employees navigate the treacherous waters of dealing with their teenagers.

Big Blue in the Green Mountains, by Jeff Couture

IBM's last 20 years in Vermont reflect both the rapid changes that have occurred in information technology and the facility's role as a leader and innovator in the design and production of semiconductor chips.

Jeff Couture is manager of communications & public relations, IBM Systems & Technology Group–Burlington

The remarkable growth of the computer, communications and electronics industries has been propelled by major advances in chip technologies that have improved products' speed and performance, while simultaneously reducing their size and cost. The IBM Vermont facility known as IBM Burlington within the company has provided chip technology for IBM and major computer and electronics companies worldwide, making this progress possible.

IBM Burlington had 8,000 employees in 1984 and had just completed the expansion of its campus into Williston. Its focus was the development and manufacture of memory chips used to store information in IBM systems. In the late 1980s the site was the first in the industry to introduce one-million-bit and four-million-bit (megabit) memory chips, and became the first company to produce chips on 8-inch-diameter silicon wafers. The standard at the time was 5- to 6-inch-diameter wafers. The site had 7,000 employees as the decade ended.

At the beginning of the 1990s, the site produced the industry's first 16-megabit memory chip, and announced alliances with Siemens to develop 64-megabit memory chips, and with Siemens and Toshiba for the development of 256-megabit and 1-gigabit memory chips.

The volatility of the memory chip business led IBM to shift its focus to microprocessor and logic chip technology in the 1990s. Burlington's product menu expanded to include the PowerPC family of microprocessors as well as chips for multimedia, telecommunications, and consumer electronics.

For the first time, IBM in 1993 opened up its chip business to customers outside of IBM. This original equipment manufacturer (OEM) business created new opportunities for Burlington products. Today, more than half of IBM Burlington's products are for OEM customers.

That same year IBM ranked first in the number of U.S. patents issued, the first time since 1985 that a U.S. company headed the list. IBM has earned the most patents each year since, with IBM Vermont inventors representing one of the largest contributing groups.

Employee population fluctuated in the 1990s in response to competitive pressures, declining to about 6,000 by 1995 before climbing to over 8,000 by the end of the decade.

During the 1990s, IBM Burlington produced PowerPC microprocessor chips for IBM's systems, Apple computers and Nintendo's GameCube. Chips from Vermont also powered IBM's chess-playing Deep Blue computer that defeated chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov in 1997, and were aboard NASA's unmanned Pathfinder explorer mission to Mars that same year.

In the late 1990s, the Vermont facility was involved in the introduction of several industry-leading innovations that improved both chip performance and energy use. They included using copper instead of aluminum wiring, protecting a chip's transistors with a blanket of insulation in a technique called silicon-on-insulator, the combining of memory and logic functions on a single chip, and a technology called silicon germanium for producing fast chips for cell phones, pagers and other wireless products. IBM Burlington is the company's sole facility producing silicon germanium chips.

IBM Burlington's OEM business saw substantial growth by 2000, with customers including Apple, Cisco, Compaq, Qualcomm, and Nortel. New capital investment of $1 billion was announced for the Burlington plant.

A drop in computing demand, the collapse of dot-com companies, oversupply in the chip industry, and the overall economic slowdown led to one of the most severe downturns in the chip industry's history from 2001 through 2003. The downturn resulted in layoffs at IBM Burlington, bringing the site's full-time population to its current 6,000 employees.

During this decade IBM unveiled next-generation servers, all powered by technology from Vermont, helping make the IBM eServer line the market leader. The site shipped more than 25 million copper chips in 2001, more than 100 million silicon germanium chips in 2002, and delivered the world's first 64-bit desktop processor for the new Apple Power Mac G5 in 2003. The facility also began pursuing new "foundry" manufacturing business – making other companies' chip designs for them – announcing deals with Intersil, the U.S. Department of Defense, and Motorola. Most recently, the Vermont plant produced POWER5, the industry's most powerful 64-bit microprocessor, for IBM's eServers.

As the chip industry has improved, IBM Burlington's production lines have filled and the site is hiring for approximately 200 long-term supplemental manufacturing positions.

As has been true for the last 20 years, IBM Burlington's future success will depend on its ability to be innovative, cost-competitive and responsive to the changing needs of its customers companies whose businesses depend on technology products from the Vermont plant.

Originally published in July 2004 Business People-Vermont