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MentorLinks helps rural college open IT opportunities


Anthony Beardslee
, assistant dean of business and technology at Northeast Community College; IT instructor Kris Coan (center); and mentor Davina Pruitt-Mentle, co-principal investigator of the National Cyberwatch Center, during their final MentorLinks meeting.

Northeast Community College in Nebraska really needed to boost its information technology (IT) program, according to Kris Coan, an IT instructor at the college. Participating in MentorLinks provided some of the funding and expertise to do that.

During its time in MentorLinks, Northeast implemented a recruitment-and-retention plan for its IT program; developed partnerships with other higher education institutions; and used a cloud-based service to deliver IT instruction to secondary schools in its 20-county service area. The new instructional technology allows the faculty member who teaches from Northeast to interact in real-time with students in their high school computer labs and to control students’ desktops from the college.

“The IT courses are really needed,” Coan emphasized.

Filling a demand

Until Northeast launched the Programming in Visual Basic course it developed with the help of mentor Davina Pruitt-Mentle, very few of the region’s high schools taught anything beyond micro-computer applications. (Pruitt-Mentle is executive director of Educational Technology Policy, Research, and Outreach in Clarksville, Md. She is also co-principal investigator of the National CyberWatch Center at Prince George's Community College in Largo, Md.)

Applications for the next round of MentorLinks colleges and mentors will be available in late February on AACC's MentorLinks website.

Since the course was started, eight students disbursed among five rural high schools have enrolled in the dual-credit course in each of the first three semesters it was offered. Those five schools are expected to participate again this spring. One school plans to enroll 16 students.

Other evidence of high school students’ growing interest in IT comes from the number who participated in the IT sessions during the college’s most recent annual Business Career Day. The 70 students who attended more than doubled previous attendance in IT sessions.   

Broadening roots

Since becoming involved in MentorLinks, Northeast reinforced the partnership it has had with IBM since 2000. The college is one of only 68 North American higher education institutional partners of IBM. Northeast has also strengthened its collaborations with Wayne State College, the AIM Institute and the Midwest Center for Information Technology. Northeast faculty members are also developing a cloud-computing project with Georgia Southern University.

Sowing the seeds of sustainability

Northeast faculty plan to continue their MentorLinks work by marketing the newly designed IT curriculum, which uses a stackable certificate model. Students who earn the IT certificates can combine them toward a new IT degree. The new curriculum will also prepare students to succeed on exams for industry certifications.