Helping others get more than a foot in the IT door.
- By Dian Schaffhauser
Because he has a young face, the only way you can tell Michael Rodgers
from some of his students is that he tends to dress better. He speaks
with the dulcet accent of a native Tennessean. And from his empire, which
fits inside two classrooms at Dyersburg State Community College, Rodgers
could change the face of IT education.
I came to know Rodgers when he kept showing up at our conferences with
a ragtag bunch of people who acted as volunteers. These were Rodgers’
students. And they weren’t all straight from high school. Some were career
changers put through the two-year Communications & Information Technology
Degree program by state money.
The way Rodgers figures it, by bringing them to these events, his students
get to sit through classes and see how professionals act, dress and talk
in a business environment.
Rodgers has a background in IT, having worked as the senior network engineer
and director of IS for a hospital conglomerate and as the security and
network manager for a regional ISP out of Memphis. He also works for a
consulting firm that provides security and network management services.
He taps his contacts to set up internships for his students, a requirement
of the program. “I call these people and say, ‘Hey, I’ve got a student
who really wants to get into this area. I know you’re working on this
new project. It’s not going to cost anything. What do you think?’” Rodgers
Rodgers also takes field trips closer to home. He’s hauled groups of
students to network operations centers, telephone offices (“so that when
they hear the terminology, ‘CO,’ ‘demarc’...they see what it’s like”),
the local Cisco office, Microsoft events.
“I can talk until I’m blue in the face,” he says. “But it’s not the same
as taking the students and putting them into the actual physical environment.
Here’s the chair where you’ll sit and work. These racks and rows of servers,
here’s what you’re going to do on a daily basis.”
He’s not shy about asking for corporate support. Microsoft Press recently
donated $7,000 worth of material. Companies like Cisco, 3Com, SonicWALL,
WatchGuard Technologies, Internet Security Systems and Check Point Software
have provided demo equipment for weeks at a time so that students can
install it, configure it and test it in their classroom network. A corporate
sponsor picked up the tab to house students at a recent conference. He’s
pushing Cisco to donate a wireless lab.
In a country mesmerized by celebrity hype, stories of teachers doing
their job in west Tennessee don’t rank high—except when one of them turns
what could be an ordinary job into an extraordinary endeavor.
Do you know somebody doing an uncommon job? Share the story at email@example.com.
Dian L. Schaffhauser is a freelance writer based in Northern California.