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Grant to fund IT training at Northeast State

Community Contributor Tom Wilson • Feb 3, 2020 at 3:45 PM

BLOUNTVILLE — A generous grant and a motivated computer science department are giving Northeast State Community College resources to train the region’s new generation of information technology (IT) professionals, with help from two local school systems, a four-year private school, a state technical school, local businesses and others.

The Governor’s Investment in Vocational Education (GIVE) set aside $25 million in the state’s 2020 budget and divvied up the money to fund 28 projects focused on career and technical education statewide. One of those is the Northeast Tennessee IT Career Accelerator Pathway administered through the college’s Department of Computer and Information Sciences.

“We want to be able to strengthen the regional IT workforce and support the growth that is projected for the IT sector in Northeast Tennessee,” said Donna Farrell, assistant professor of computer and information sciences at NSCC. The Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development (TDLWD) expects continued growth in the labor market for computer networking occupations.

The Career Accelerator expects to serve 235 participants over a 30-month timeline. Participants include NSCC students, regional high school students, Tennessee College of Applied Technology (TCAT) students, unemployed/under-employed individuals and incumbent workers. Students will have the opportunity to participate in a full continuum of work-based learning opportunities from career awareness to career training.

To be considered for the GIVE grant, NSCC sought out regional partners to join the project. These include the Northeast Tennessee Local Workforce Development Board; Bristol Tennessee Essential Services; First Tennessee Development District; TCAT-Elizabethton; Milligan College, a private school; Kingsport City Schools; Sullivan County Schools; Century Link; Bailey Computing Technologies Inc. (BCTI); and Tele-Optics, Inc.

The grant funds creation of hands-on computer networking laboratories at multiple NSCC campuses including the new Technical Education Complex opening next year. The grant funds two additional positions for the computer science department, one full-time faculty member and one full-time lab assistant, both focusing on the networking curriculum. Farrell also notes that an apprenticeship program for computer networking is ready for participation by industry partners through the college’s Office of Workforce Solutions.

The Northeast Tennessee IT Career Accelerator Pathway supports multiple programs including intense Cisco network “boot camps” to prepare students for the challenging Cisco certification exams. The grant will cover Cisco exam fees for students completing the program. “We want to provide a boot camp experience that provides students a deeper foundation of knowledge and not just cramming to take an exam. Our goal is to increase the number of trained and Cisco-certified networking professionals in our region,” said Farrell.

The college’s Computer and Information Sciences Department administers associate degree programs in the curricula of programming, cyber defense, systems administration, networking and the Internet of Things (IoT). The department and its programs renewed full accreditation earlier this year through the Association of Technology, Management, and Applied Engineering (ATMAE). (The IoT curriculum is new, beginning in spring 2020 and will be accredited in the 2024 review.) The Northeast Tennessee IT Career Accelerator Pathway marks a brave new era for information technology education at NSCC.

“We want to become the computer science department of choice in the area,” Farrell said. “We want students to pick us because of the programs we offer and experience that we have.”