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IBM Academic Initiative offers free software to students and faculty

July 21, 2017

NIU students and faculty have the opportunity to access hundreds of IBM programs and other resources – for free.

These resources – ranging from cloud access, industry software, remote hardware and datasets to training tools and lesson plans – are part of the IBM Academic Initiative, which offers free resources to academic institutions worldwide to help students develop market-ready skills. NIU is one of more than 3,000 organizations taking part in the program.

The Academic Initiative includes a wide range of products and tools that students can take advantage of to gain hands-on experience related to computer science, information technology, business and marketing. As Valinda Scarbro Kennedy, Worldwide Skills Program Manager for IBM Global University Programs, emphasizes, “IBM is sharing the full-version software and tools – not a limited academic version. This means that students have an opportunity to gain hands-on experience with the exact software programs being used in industry.”

The IBM Academic Initiative is organized into nine key technology areas, including Cloud, Data & Analytics, Security and Watson. Students and faculty can browse available resources at

Some of the resources that are most popular with college students include IBM’s Watson and Bluemix technology. Watson – IBM’s Artificial Intelligence QAM (Question Answering Machine) – is most famous for defeating human opponents to win the game show Jeopardy in 2011. But since then Watson has continued to grow, with new capabilities and an increasing services base now available to students and faculty.

The Watson technology is part of the Bluemix cloud, another of IBM’s most popular technologies. Bluemix allows users to create their own applications on the cloud – either from scratch or by plugging in pre-built pieces. Users can plug in Watson services, for example, to allow for intuitive real-speech interaction with the app, along with learning capabilities.

Says Kennedy, “The Watson technology we have available on the cloud is exciting. Students or faculty can create an app, and then they go into Bluemix cloud, and they can snap on a piece that does speech to text and text to speech, then they can snap on a piece that allows them to do conversation, and they could snap on weather data. Now it’s not just an app that does one thing. It’s much more engaging and user friendly and informative.”

Tracy Rogers-Tryba of NIU’s Center for P-20 Engagement has experienced some of the IBM Academic Initiative resources in her role as coordinator of NIU’s annual Huskie Hack, a 24-hour hacking event, where IBM has participated and presented. Rogers says, “The Watson technologies are wonderful. The thing I like about Watson is the fact that it takes an enormous amount of data and can compile it in different ways depending upon your use.” She continues, “For me, one of the coolest things they have is Personality Insights, an application where you can assess people’s personality based on their writing style. I put in my master’s thesis just to see how it would react to this formal piece of writing, and it nailed my personality.”

In addition to software, IBM Academic Initiative also provides coursework, tutorials, lesson plans and other resources to help faculty incorporate hands-on experience into the classroom. Faculty can browse educational resources by topic on

To access the IBM resources for free takes only minutes. NIU students and faculty should simply go to or Click on the resource you’d like to use, and then click “register.” To register, you need only your NIU email address, username and password. Then sign in, add resources to your cart and begin using them.

Faculty receive initial access for 12 months, and students for 6 months. The access can be renewed as long as the NIU username remains valid