Northeast Expands Offerings in its IT Program

by jamesc  7/25/2014 10:47:59 AM --  NORFOLK – A one million dollar investment in the renovation of the Kenneth J. Echtenkamp building on the Norfolk campus of Northeast Community College isn’t the only new addition to the program that is housed there. The College’s information technology (IT) program has been redesigned with more concentrations and a unique “build your own” degree. “This is such an exciting time for all of us. Along with the renovated building, classroom configuration, and new equipment, the most important aspect is the students,” said Gigi Simonsen, information technology instructor. “We feel with the dedicated staff, new learning environment and high-quality instruction, our students will be more competitive in today’s job market.”


Northeast Community College has expanded from two concentrations in information technology (programming and PC repair and networking) to five concentrations where students can earn certificates. The new concentrations are Cisco networking, information security, IBMi application development, web and visual application development, and technical services support. In addition, the Associate of Applied Science (AAS) degree is now made up of a core of 23 IT credits, 15 general education credits and any two of the certificate offerings.   

Kris Coan, another information technology instructor, said the new curriculum provides students with the ability to build an AAS degree that best suits their individual skills. “By providing the students with five different career areas, this opens up ten potential combinations of coursework. It is a very unique approach and one we are very excited about,” she said.

Simonsen concurred. “Giving the students an opportunity to build their own degree is a new way of thinking. They will be able to lay down their path to the future that they feel will best fit their needs. For example, if a student is interested in application development, they will get a variety of programming language experience in visual and web development along with application development for small businesses using the IBMi. If a student wants to learn about information security and networking, they can chart their course for a degree in information technology with an emphasis in these two areas.”

The additions to the College’s information technology program offerings are also reflected in the design of the Echtenkamp building.  Each lab in the building has been designed to meet the needs of a specific group or type of student or learning environment. 

One lab is designed to allow computers to be taken and left apart for more than one class period. Another has two computers for each student, one of which can be networked on a private network to allow networking students the ability to multi-task within a given lecture or lab period. The third is a traditional lecture/lab environment, but has dual monitors which allow for enhanced learning opportunities. Another lab is wireless with laptops.

Tables can be easily moved into any configuration, allowing students the opportunity to collaborate in areas such as systems design and analysis. The last lab is configured in a U-shape, giving space to a permanent robotics playing field to serve Northeast robotics students. The room has excellent visual presentation capabilities. This permits the instructor to display one image to three overhead projectors and a second image to a monitor on the student’s desk while it allows the student to work on a second monitor.

“The design of each classroom was based upon the individual needs of the courses offered in those rooms,” Coan said. “I have a mobile lab in my classroom in which I am able to teach using laptop or tablet technology and the wireless network. Students are able to collaborate easily by moving the tables into groups. The ability to move the tables out of a traditional row-type classroom into pods and then use a laptop or tablet, facilitates the collaboration within a classroom.”

In addition, Coan said students are able to use a white board when necessary to brainstorm solutions to problems. “Collaboration is a priority within the business structure. The days of programmers working independently in cubicles are gone. The IT worker of today must have communication skills, both oral and written, as well as the ability to work independently or on a team.”

Simonsen and Coan said students will also have an opportunity to decide the path that will best suit them in the job market. “With the “Build Your Own Degree” structure, the students will be able to pinpoint the areas that interest them the most,” Simonsen said. “Two of our current students have already landed jobs and are earning a maximum $40,000. This is an awesome return on their educational investment!”

Northeast Community College graduates continue to see how important earning a degree prepared them for future employment.

Paul Feilmeier, infrastructure manager at Faith Regional Health Services in Norfolk, said Northeast provided a “kickstart” to his career. “Northeast helped build and shape the necessary fundamentals for me to succeed in the workforce. Not only did my instructors and professors care about my education, but they cared about my success.  Fifteen years after I graduated from Northeast I still feel that I have full support by the Northeast staff.”

“I was at a tough crossroads in my life when I first started attending Northeast for an information technology degree, said Chad Miller, who currently serves as manager of the College’s (technology) Service Center.  “The degree I earned from Northeast did not only get me a job, it earned me a career!”

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the potential for future IT jobs is 1.4 million jobs by the year 2020. Simonsen said as she, Coan and the other two IT instructors at Northeast - Richard Chrisman and Brad Vogt - conducted research for their program review, they learned that among all occupations in all fields of science and engineering, computer science occupations are projected to account for nearly 60 percent of all job growth through 2018.

Chrisman said the 2012 median base salary for those employed in the information technology field was $96,000. “The Bureau of Labor Statistics is predicting, based upon current higher education enrollment figures, that up to one million IT jobs may go unfilled due to the lack of qualified applicants. This combination has led both Forbes and US News and World Report to list application development and systems analysts as the top two most desirable occupations in America for 2014. Our new program teaches skills needed by those two and five of the top fifteen occupations in the list.”

                                                            PHOTO CUTLINE

 Gigi Simonsen, computer programming instructor at Northeast Community College in Norfolk, teaches in one of the new classrooms in the College’s Kenneth J. Echtenkamp information technology building.






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