Attracting Top IT Students

Attracting Top IT Students

Offering a Network Academy allows colleges and universities to stand apart from their peers.
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It is vital that a college or university attract top students. Offering innovative programs that extend beyond the campus walls is one way universities can appeal to the best and brightest students. Programs in which educators collaborate with businesses--both from a learning aspect and an outreach perspective--can help a university to differentiate from its competitors.

There is a common misconception that there are fewer employment opportunities in the IT field today, which has contributed to the dramatic decline of students enrolling in science and engineering courses. It is paramount that educators raise awareness that there will be an increasing number of opportunities in the IT field in the years ahead.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that demand for IT professionals will grow by nearly 50 percent through 2012, with more than 1.5 million new computer- and IT-related job openings. The same study reports that the United States will only have half that many qualified graduates because of the declining number of students enrolling in math and science courses. The media has focused much attention on the outsourcing of IT jobs to India and China, resulting in guidance counselors dissuading students from pursuing careers in IT. The bad news also has parents concerned about their children's technology career prospects, which also contributes to this pending worker shortage.

With the introduction of the American Competitiveness Initiative earlier this year, President Bush is placing technical education in the limelight and acknowledged how critical it is for the United States to maintain a competitive edge in the world economy. The initiative acknowledges that education is the gateway to opportunity and the foundation of a knowledge-based, innovation-driven economy. The initiative further states that in order for the United States to maintain its global economic leadership, we must ensure a continuous supply of highly-trained mathematicians, scientists, engineers, technicians, and scientific support staff, as well as a scientifically, technically, and numerically literate population.

As colleges and universities compete to attract top IT students, they must provide programs and courses that offer prospective students a competitive edge once they enter the business world. Incorporating programs such as the Cisco Networking Academy can help institutions provide students with both the practical skills that will prepare students to hit the ground running in the IT field, plus an understanding of how these mission-critical network operations drive everyday business functions.

Created in 1997, the Cisco Networking Academy is a global training program that provides students with network and IT experience. The academy's program is designed to offer students real-world skills that will position them for employment and career growth.

The Cisco Networking Academy Program also provides opportunities for colleges and universities to collaborate with businesses in activities such as job placement programs. For example, the Cisco Networking Academy has been piloting "Strategic NetWork Recruiting Events," which are enhanced job fairs where Cisco business partners participate with a local Cisco Networking Academy to promote job openings. These events provide an opportunity for Cisco Networking Academy students to interview for open positions with these companies, taking the concept of a job fair to a higher level.

Ergonomics Group Inc. (EGI) is a Cisco VAR (value-added reseller) and full-service technology solution provider that uses a service approach to help organizations solve their most pressing business and IT challenges. Dameian Bossarte, an engineer at EGI, participated in a recent Cisco Network Academy event at Bunker Hill College in Boston to interview candidates from the Cisco Networking Academy. From this event Bossarte has contracted one of these candidates for a four-month position at a customer site and has recommended a number of the students to other engineering organizations that needed quality IT employees; those referrals have led to student employment.

Through events such as this, colleges and universities with a Cisco Networking Academy Program expose students to career opportunities while helping to build a pipeline of technically proficient IT professionals. With today's high cost of higher education, benefits such as linking qualified graduates with potential employers are often a determining factor in persuading top students to choose one university over another.

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) has used the Cisco Networking Academy Program to attract top technical students. The university targets specific high schools with reputations for quality technology programs for recruiting top students who show proficiency in math and science. As these students study at RPI they are able to build on their strong technical foundation by learning and practicing the advanced work that Fortune 500 companies expect from RPI graduates. RPI has found that while many other programs prepare graduates to work with computer desktops, the Cisco Networking Academy Program helps them take students to the next level and understand the network to which these desktops are attached. This can provide graduates with a competitive advantage as they enter the job market.

Finding applicants with the right technical skills is only one of the challenges that businesses face when hiring graduates into IT positions. Equally important is finding applicants who possess the soft skills, such as listening, conflict management, leadership ability, and other personality characteristics necessary to succeed in the business environment. The most valuable new hires are students who are critical thinkers able to relate their technical expertise to practical business while collaborating effectively with others throughout the organization and communicating well. These graduates require less on-the-job training and quickly become productive assets within an organization.

Matthew Mountz is a Cisco Networking Academy student at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, Calif. After graduating from University of California, Davis, he secured an intern position at NASA as a network engineer. A fellow intern encouraged Mountz to enter the Cisco Networking Academy program to round out his knowledge with hands-on networking experience.

"The hands-on experience I've received at the Cisco Networking Academy gives me an edge over other students," he says. "This practical experience makes me more than just a paper CCNA or CCNP and gives me the opportunity to try out what I'm learning, which is very valuable. The practical skills I'm learning are extremely important and provide a balance to what I learned in university courses."

In addition to the labs that comprise the curriculum, the Cisco Networking Academy also provides students with opportunities to collaborate on real-world problems. Each course includes a case study where students form teams to design and implement a plan that addresses a specific business issue for a fictitious organization.

In order to ensure that students receive the best hands-on experience, most universities that participate in the Cisco Networking Academy Program provide students with three to five times the minimum system requirements. Additionally, many incorporate virtual tools that enable them to create virtual labs to supplement this hands-on experience. Aside from working on the hardware, the virtual labs provide an opportunity for students to further their understanding of network operations inside or outside of the classroom. These virtual networks are similar to the large, complex networks found in national or global organizations and provide students with the skill set and experience they need to successfully operate in today's complex business environments.

The National Science Foundation administers a number of programs designed to improve science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) materials and methods. One of these programs, the Advanced Technological Education (ATE) program is receiving increased funding through the American Competitiveness Initiative. This program supports partnerships between colleges and local industries to train students for careers in the high-technology workplace. Joint programs between universities, the Cisco Networking Academy, and local businesses could be ideal candidates for the ATE program.

There is significant opportunity for collaborative efforts between universities and businesses to provide graduates with a quality technology education and highly marketable skill set, while at the same time opening the doors to potential employment opportunities.


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