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Program gives 10 Soutwest Virginia students introduction to information technology

August 4th, 2012 9:13 pm by Rick Wagner

GATE CITY — Ten Southwest Virginia residents ages 16 to 20 have learned some basics of information technology, commonly called IT, over the past four weeks in Scott County.

At least five of them stand to get college credit for their participation, which cost them only time.

Plans are to replicate and expand the program in coming months in Lee and Wise counties.

The 10 have just completed the inaugural Summer IT Academy held in Gate City, something planned to be repeated in Lee County later this year and in Wise County in the spring.

They did it at no cost, received free meals, and were reimbursed for mileage. And their IT training also included helping install Wi-Fi systems at Shumaker Elementary School, Gate City Middle School and Gate City High School, as well as classroom instruction and job shadowing of Scott County Telephone Cooperative workers.

What’s more, if they attend college they will get eight credit hours for the four weeks. Of the 10, four as of Friday already had enrolled in the IT program at Mountain Empire Community College in Big Stone Gap this fall. A fifth is enrolled in the MECC physical therapy program.

Some of the students are seeking a GED, some have a GED, and some are high school graduates or still in high school.

Targeting at-risk students

Rebecca Scott, Gate City-based regional manager for the Regional Adult Education Program of Lee, Scott, Wise and Norton public schools, said the purpose of the program is to show students in a hands-on way what a career in IT would be. The program tries to target at-risk students, who might tend to be dropouts or who might not continue beyond high school or a GED, Scott said.

Scott said she is trying to drum up interest in a second IT program in Lee, possibly after school hours. Plans for the spring include bringing the program to Wise County, she said.

The program was the brainchild of MECC IT Division Dean Vickie Ratliff, Scott said.

The incoming physical therapy student is Moriah Hillhouse, 18, of Rose Hill in Lee County. She graduated from Patrick Henry High School in Washington County, Va., near Bristol, Va., and is originally from Texas.

Hillhouse said the practical application of the course for her is new knowledge that would help her work on her own computers or wireless system or at least have knowledge about what others might do to her systems.

Hillhouse also said she overcame her fear of heights to help run wiring above the suspended ceiling at Shumaker and embraces computers more than before. As for her future career, she said physical therapy is technology intensive, and she will be working with computers as a therapist.

Another participant among the 10 was Gabe Gillespie, 19 and from Midway in Scott County. Also a Texas native, he has completed his GED and is enrolled in MECC’s IT program starting this fall.

“I’ve always had an interest in electronics, computers — any technology,” Gillespie said.

He plans to get a two-year degree in networking and possibly go on to a four-year degree at the University of Virginia’s College at Wise.

Three teaching assistants — Mike Hiller, Brian Smith and Machael Meade — are recent MECC graduates and are enrolled or plan to enroll in a four-year school soon.

Hillhouse and Gillespie said they enjoyed applications they designed for an Android phone, including one Hillhouse showed that replicates the old “Whack-a-Mole” arcade game.

They said the work bringing wireless to the Scott County schools is important because in the next few years plans are for all students to have an iPad, tablet or other device and for printed textbooks to go away.

Gillespie said he believes most printed textbooks and printed materials in general are on the way out, except maybe books, while Hillhouse said she still sees a presence of print newspaper, magazines and such.

Classroom, on-site work

The first week, students took classes from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. with MECC professor Nasser Maksoud. Activities included building apps for Android phones and working on robotics.

The second week another professor, Fred Coeburn, taught the students about networking, including the practical applications of science and math, and routers.

“We did plant some seeds,” Coeburn said of the four students to study IT at MECC this fall.

“It really surprised me,” Coeburn said. “They were all enthused.”

The third week, the students followed the telephone cooperative employees to various sites, seeing telephone equipment, Internet equipment and fiber optics firsthand and being mentored by the phone employees.

And the fourth week, which ended with a lunch Friday, was working at Shumaker, where Thursday some of the students pointed out the Wi-Fi access points and wiring they had helped install. They also did some work at Gate City High School and Gate City Middle School.

The program got most of its funding from a Workforce Investment Act grant through People Incorporated.

Appalachian Community Action provided free lunches for the students.

Others involved in the program included Jan Stallard of Scott’s group, who helped with basic skills as needed; Clarissia Flannary of the telephone cooperative; Jason Smith, supervisor of technology for Scott County schools; and Sara Garrett, case manager for People Incorporated.

For more information on the program contact Scott at (877) 722-3243 or visit

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