Networking is a crucial component of any job search — especially if you’re an IT student.
Five technological virtuosos from the South Hills School of Business and Technology completed their capstone project at the Mid-State Literary Council on Monday, a real world excursion that challenged their programming prowess and ability to interface with clients as well as computers.
“That’s a big deal industry-wise, to have IT people that can talk to the user,” said Dave Whitmarsh, an IT instructor and adviser at South Hills.
In addition to teaching duties at South Hills, Whitmarsh is also president of the board at the Mid-State Literary Council, a nonprofit located in State College that offers adult education services with a focus on developing basic communication skills.
For the past three years, Whitmarsh has been helping the nonprofit’s executive director, Amy Wilson, work around technological challenges.
Still, there was only so much he could do. It turns out the having a full-time job is, well, a full-time job.
After coordinating with Wilson, Whimarsh decided to farm out the endeavor to his class as one of three potential capstone projects, attracting the services of students Asher Edmondson, Ryan Vidrine, Hunter Remp, Kyle Renoud and Evan Collar.
Vidrine, who also served as project manager, said that he was drawn to the literary council by the opportunity to give back.
“It was something that helped the community. It serves 200 local people,” Vidrine said.
Fortunately, the IT group only had to focus on serving one.
Whitmarsh asked Wilson to put together a list of needs that the students could address.
It was then the young professionals’ responsibility to coordinate with their client, clarify her goals and effectively communicate the steps they would take to accomplish each task.
The fine line between jargon and gibberish that distinguishes IT personnel from civilians can be something of a language barrier.
Whitmarsh said that employers are looking for techno-talent that can wade through complex terminology and converse easily with clients — a skill that comes in handy even when it comes to something as simple as buying a new computer.
The literary council computer systems were using outdated hardware and software. Edmondson coordinated the search for replacements.
Because the literary council was operating on a limited budget, Edmondson was forced to be very specific in identifying his client’s needs, researching extensively to determine the best fit at the right cost.
Other enhancements to the literary center included the installation of two new projectors, increased Internet speed, and the rewiring and interconnection of several classrooms.
Collar was responsible for updating the nonprofit’s website.
“I updated it to a more fluid layout, changed the colors, centralized the information a little bit,” Collar said.
One server required a little bit of extra attention. Almost 10 years old, the server contained information required for upcoming grants but nobody at the literacy council — where cyber security is apparently taken very seriously — knew the password.
The students brought the server back to class and engaged in a little bit of ethical hacking — skills not taught at South Hills — to retrieve the required information.
Once all of the installations and updates were complete, the IT wizards trained the staff how to use the equipment.
Whitmarsh estimates that his students put in about 1,000 hours on the project and in doing so gained an appreciation for more than their own skillsets.
“They also got to see what a nonprofit organization does in person,” Whitmarsh said.