Wake Technical Community College Connects Students to IT Sector

The new campus is a potential pipeline from the classroom to the workforce.

by Madison Iszler, The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.) / June 13, 2017

(TNS) -- Wake Technical Community College will open its sixth campus next year, catering to students interested in the information technology sector. 

The new RTP campus on Chapel Hill Road in Morrisville will put students practically next door to tech companies in Research Triangle Park and western Wake County, allowing for partnerships and a potential pipeline from the classroom to the workforce.

Programs will focus on cybersecurity, computer programming and business analytics, among other IT fields.

“The focus of the campus is on growing industries. We’re looking to expand into the IT market,” said Rita Jerman, senior vice present for student services. “Because technology is constantly changing, the hallmark of this new campus will be adaptability and flexibility.”

The first building, funded by a 2012 voter-approved referendum, is under construction, and the RTP campus could eventually serve 7,000 students in 10 buildings.

It’s another sign of growth at Wake Tech, where enrollment exceeded 70,000 students for the first time in 2015.

Wake Tech, which opened in 1963 and is based in south Raleigh, opened its last campus – the Public Safety Education Campus – in 2008. The facility features a forensics lab, an incident command center and a mock courtroom to help students prepare for careers in criminal justice and fire protection technology.

Some other Wake Tech campuses, including the Perry Health Sciences Campus, also offer a narrow focus of study. College leaders say it makes sense now to focus on the booming IT sector.

The goal is to place students who attend the RTP campus in internships to bridge the gap between those seeking employment and companies looking for specific skills.

“It’s an aligning of interests,” Jerman said. “We want to turn out a student who is ready to go to work. We lend a listening ear to businesses and design our curriculum to meet their needs.”

Last month, Wake Tech launched an internship program with tech company Lenovo, which has its U.S. headquarters in Morrisville. Most of the internship positions are in Lenovo’s IT department, as well as in marketing and business analytics. Twelve students are earning college credit and $20 an hour, working 30 hours a week.

The community college hopes to develop similar partnerships with other tech companies.

The employment growth rate in information technology in North Carolina grew by more than 28 percent, the fastest growth rate in the U.S., between 2010 and 2015, according to a report from the N.C. Technology Association. There are currently more than 3,000 IT job postings in the Raleigh-Durham area on Indeed.com.

Tom Looney, chairman of Wake Tech’s board of trustees, witnessed the demand for tech-savvy workers first-hand: He retired from Lenovo in 2014 after 10 years as general manager and then vice president of sales in North America. Before that, he spent more than 25 years working for IBM.

“Companies were all competing for the same talent here in the Triangle and stealing employees from each other,” Looney said.

The perception of community colleges and people who will be successful employees has changed, he said. During Looney’s tenure at IBM, the company rarely considered job applications from students who attended community college.

“The definition of success used to be a four-year degree,” Looney said. “Now, it’s having employable skills and little debt.”

He continued: “If you look at education, businesses really need to be part of the fabric, and community colleges are playing a large role in this. There’s a shortage of IT workers in the workforce, and companies are looking for specific, employable skills.”

Diversifying the technology workforce is another goal of the internship program. Women, immigrants and ethnic minorities are represented in the inaugural group of interns.

Shantal Grullon, who is taking part in the Lenovo program, is studying data storage and visualization at Wake Tech. Two years ago, a family friend was dumbfounded when Grullon, 18, said she wanted to pursue a career in technology.

“But you’re a girl,” the friend told Grullon.

Such doubts, and also her experience so far at Lenovo, have only furthered her passion, Grullon said. As a software engineering intern, she said Lenovo has opened her eyes to the wealth of opportunities in technology.

“There are so many places I could go from here,” Grullon said. “I would have never dreamed this would happen.”

Wake Tech is expanding its partnership next spring to include the N.C. Department of Information Technology, which will offer scholarships to five Wake Tech students. The students will be guaranteed an internship with Lenovo followed by a job with the state after graduation.

More information about the internships is at wbl.waketech.edu.

“We can be a model for the country,” Looney said of the partnerships.

©2017 The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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