Early Tech Program Brings CompTIA Certs to Indiana Teens

by Jim Staats | Jun 30, 2011

High schoolers in a rural Indiana farming community are getting a CompTIA-soaked technology awakening thanks to an upstart junior college program.

Located between Clinton and Rockville, Indiana, Ivy Tech Community College has for the past seven years been helping kids graduate not just with high school diplomas, but also with CompTIA A+ and Network+ certifications in a dual credit initiative unique to the state and much of the country.

Charlie Peebles, an assistant professor and former IBM technician who teaches the IT-focused program, described it as “a tremendous headstart.

“There’s no other high school program in our area that has students graduating with certifications,” he said. “When students go to apply for a job, they’ve got the leg up. Employers understand certification a lot better than they do (college) transcripts. I would say it’s a pretty big advantage for these guys.”

Peebles, 58, said the biggest improvement for the decade-long program was the switch to CompTIA’s foundation-level programs after an initial three years with a vendor certification.

“Nobody wanted to try to get certified,” he said. “I saw CompTIA A+ as a way of getting these guys certified. Anytime you see a student at this level pass certification, it’s a big motivator to them. It made all the difference in the world.”

Peebles estimated since the creation of the two-year program about 60 to 70 students have graduated with multiple certifications. He said the past five years have produced an average of five to eight students earning certifications annually and 2011 was the first year to have a participant graduate with three CompTIA certifications. The initiative, which started with CompTIA A+ and Network+, just started introducing CompTIA Server+ and Security+ in the past year.

Peebles was aware of CompTIA from his dozen years running development labs for IBM in Boca Raton, Florida. A former Ivy Tech student and teacher, he returned to his alma mater - the state’s largest college in terms of enrollment with more than 120,000 students annually - upon learning of the burgeoning program.

With built-up pride that comes through loud and clear even on a scratchy phone line, Peebles said he’s been impressed with what his high school enrollees have been able to accomplish through this community college offering.

In a region not traditionally known for technical offerings, many of his graduates found their calling in IT. Most continued their education, though some put their certification credentials into action immediately with network, system analysis and troubleshooting functions for local businesses and organizations.

“It’s been very rewarding to see these guys graduate high school and some of them step right into IT jobs,” said Peebles.

Peebles said starting students out with CompTIA A+, Network+ and Server+ has been more in line with the level of high schoolers entering the program. The teachings offered the proper foundation, but attendees found it anything but a breeze.

“It got them started and more confident to move into more vendor-oriented certifications,” he said.

Working through the Parke Vermillion Education Training Interlocal, the program funnels juniors and seniors with an interest in technology from five nearby high schools. Students could also earn up to 30 college credits accepted at institutions across the state. Costly exams were also offered at a reduced rate for program attendees.

Program activities focuses on CompTIA A+ fundamentals in the first year along with IS fundamentals, program storage and history of computers. In the second year, topics branch into web design along with CompTIA Network+, Server+ and Security+.

Peebles said the rigorous activities prove beneficial for entering students, many of who know little to nothing about computers coming in.

“In order for these guys to get certified, they have to actually learn how to study which is a new concept for some of these students,” he said. “It’s awesome to see the change in these guys from the first year to second year. They do get a desire to learn. They had to study their butts off to pass that certification and once they pass they realize, ‘I can do this’.”

Zachary Babyak, 19, out of Riverton Parke High School in Mecca, Indiana, earned his CompTIA A+ certification in 2009 and CompTIA Network+ the following year.

He is now stuyding physics, but credits the program for broadening his horizons.

“It was the first time I’d been exposed to informaiton I actually had to review or think to understand,” Babyak said.

“It was a course in which I had to learn how to teach myself, which I think is a valuable life skill for both my education and my planned career.”

Jacob Lutz, 17, a resident of Rockville, Indiana, attending Turkey Run High School, earned his CompTIA A+ certification this past May and sees it as a career foundation.

“I plan to major in computer science and then pursue a job in that field,” he said. “A CompTIA certification reinforces the college degree and shows that I am capable of fulfilling the necessary requirements to earn a well-paying job.”

Lutz counted the expansion of his knowledge necessary in the program training and testing as its most beneficial element.

“I am eager to learn about advancements in technology and the knowledge and continuing interest I gained from this course is likely something that will outlast my possession of a certificate,” he said.

Peebles, who keeps in touch with numerous graduates, said he knew of dozens of students who’ve gone right into IT jobs, some venturing to test the waters in Indianapolis and others staying put to help local businesses. Many who continued their education, Peebles said, were taking on tasks including helpdesk work or network maintenance at their new schools.

He said the program has branched out to work with Indiana’s WorkOne workforce program, but remained focused on its high schoolers.

“If you don’t know something about computers, you’re going to be in trouble down the road,” Peebles said. “I tell these guys, it sure makes it a little less frustrating when you can fix your own problems.”

To learn more about Indiana’s education program, visit www.pveti.k12.in.us

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