ETSU students lend technical support to local high schools

By Megan R. Harrell

Star Staff
mharrell@starhq.com

   East Tennessee State University seniors Dustin Atkins, John Carter and Travis Griffith are at Cloudland High School every week working to solve the school's computer woes. The students are involved in the Capstone Project as part of the Computer Science/Information Technology (IT) program at ETSU.
   ETSU professor Dr. Jerry Sayers, who tested the program at an elementary school where his wife was a teacher, started the Capstone Project. It is a senior level, three credit hour class at ETSU that places students at area high schools where they act as computer technicians for a semester. The program compares to co-op and practicum requirements at other universities, and acts as practical culminating experience for the ETSU students at the end of their Information Technology curriculum.
   With the Capstone Project IT, students may choose from three different options. They may teach the 1100 level class which is an introduction computer class at ETSU, work at a job where they go on projects with the employer or work with the local school system.
   Atkins, Carter and Griffith each spend a minimum of five hours at Cloudland High School every week. When they arrive there is always plenty for them to work on. The ETSU students work on whatever problems the staff at the school has with a computer. "We are just here to help out without stepping on anybody's toes is the main thing," Carter said. Atkins added that whatever the school needs done they do because they are there for the school's benefit.
   The ETSU students have also put hours in at the new Cloudland Elementary School. There are 27 computers on the way to the elementary school and the ETSU students have been preparing to install a state-of-the-art technology network at the school that will be the same caliber as that at ETSU.
   The ETSU students have a supervisor at the high school and also at the university. Larry Heaton is Cloudland High School's computer teacher and informs the students of what needs to be done. The students then work until the school's computer problems are solved. Terry Countermine is the Chairman of the Capstone Project at ETSU where the IT concentration began only two years ago. The IT department is still fairly small with 25 this semester and an anticipated 28 next semester in the program.
   The Carter County School System has 16 schools with a combined 1000 computers. It has only one employee available to train staff members how to use the computers and only one additional employee maintains and installs hard and software throughout the county. The Capstone students are extremely well-trained to meet the county school's needs. "We do a wide range of things anywhere from plugging in a computer to diagnosing network problems and changing hard drives," Atkins said.
   The Capstone Project is unique in that both the local schools and ETSU students benefit equally. "I wanted to come up here because I heard about Larry Heaton and what he was doing up here and thought would be a good opportunity to come out and would be a good learning experience," Carter said. Cloudland High School's advanced technology attracted ETSU's top IT students for a dose of real world experience. Cloudland High School is fully networked with two servers running in to Heaton's classroom.
   Atkins and Carter hope to enter the corporate world of IT where experience weighs heavily in finding employment opportunities. The entire technology industry looks for a lot of experience coupled with training. "Learning how to communicate with people has been one of the most beneficial things. If you go into a company and you are trying to fix their network you have to listen to the problems of the people that work there, so you have to understand them and then translate it all over to the technical side," Atkins said.
   For Cloudland High School, the funds and manhours saved by utilizing the ETSU Capstone Project are hard to gauge. "The ETSU students at Cloudland High School have performed above expectation. Not only the faculty but also administrators have noted their professional demeanor and work ethic," Heaton said. "The students are able to assess the immediate needs of our school, listen to teacher's problems, analyze them and design and implement quick solutions. They approach each task with professionalism, enthusiasm and tenacity. They save the school and county countless hours."