Company, school team up in computer ed

Classes give students step up to high-tech jobs

Posted: Monday, March 13, 2000

Some Juneau-Douglas High School students are taking computer networking courses that could lead to high-paying jobs right out of high school.

``We don't have a chance to do that very often at the secondary level,'' said Dale Staley, the school district's director of vocational education.

Even in the old days, vocational students still needed years of internships or further education before getting jobs, he said.

Cisco Systems Inc., a San Jose, Calif.,-based company that dominates the market for networking hardware and software, offers the four-course curriculum free over the Internet, sells some of the networking equipment to schools at reduced cost, and trains local teachers.

``Where Juneau high school is going is down the path where the school is forming partnerships with the business community to get our school-to-work program going,'' said Principal Sasha Soboleff.

The program, which began in January 1999 in the high school, hasn't cost the school district anything. A federal grant paid for about $9,000 worth of Cisco equipment, and the school already had the computers, said Jan Anderson, who teaches the Cisco courses.

The University of Alaska Southeast also offers the courses in the evening. UAS started its program this fall. JDHS students can take the first two courses at the high school for college credit. They have to take the last two courses at UAS. Students can then take a test to be Cisco-certified.

Tim Powers - who teaches the Cisco courses at UAS and is helping teach the second course at JDHS - said the university tries to stay away from company-provided curriculum because the market for the services might shrivel up. But that wasn't a concern here.

Cisco supplies about three-quarters of the networking market worldwide, according to the company. Students are being prepared to work for all sorts of businesses that use computer networks, from hospitals to accounting firms, said Debbie Bruce, a Cisco spokeswoman.

``It is Cisco's curriculum,'' said Michael Ciri, who manages computer services at UAS. ``It's not generic networking curriculum. On the other hand, Cisco is the 800-pound gorilla of the networking field.''

The Cisco courses teach to networking's international standards, Ciri said. Students who master the material, which he described as pretty advanced, would be qualified for a job, he said.

``I'm taking the course because I might get a job in the field,'' said junior John Bryant. ``I just have an interest in the computer electronics area.''

The jobs are there. Software and services are the largest growing segments of the information technology industry, with an 8.3 percent jump in employment annually, according to the U.S. Commerce Department.

Networking jobs pay $40,000 to $70,000 to start, Powers and industry members said.

Even right out of high school? ``Absolutely,'' Bruce said, although Cisco encourages students to go on for further degrees.

Companies want to see an associate's or bachelor's degree, she said, but they are looking for skilled people. The courses - which are taught at 3,400 high schools, community colleges and four-year colleges around the world - also attract adults who want a career change, Bruce said.

If there's a downside, it's that not all of the networking courses are free as part of the public school curriculum.

JDHS students will have to pay several hundred dollars for each UAS course, unless the school district covers the cost under its College Connection program. The College Connection pays the cost of UAS courses for some high school students.

The school district eventually might offer all four courses, Staley said.

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