Tech Training: How Columbia State Teaches Tech
Columbia State opens IT opportunities for students.
The gap between available tech jobs and workers with the right skills is an opportunity for an institution focused on serving its community. Columbia State Community College (CSCC) saw and seized that opportunity at its Williamson County campus.
"Our mission is to serve the community, help develop a workforce and be a driver for the economic engine in the region," says Dr. Dearl Lampley, vice president for the Williamson Campus and external services. "Information technology is one of the areas CSCC has focused on for the past 10 years."
CSCC IT initiatives include a Tractor Supply student capstone experience, the Engineering Systems Technology/Mechatronics Program at Fairview High School, the Williamson Information Technology (WIT) Center at Centennial High School and a new Cyber Defense Mobile Unit.
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With the Tennessee Promise and Tennessee Reconnect programs providing free community college tuition to qualifying high school graduates and adults who want to earn degrees, students have more opportunities than ever in Tennessee to obtain workforce skills. Lampley said one of the challenges to filling the demand for IT jobs had been the bias some companies have regarding students with two-year degrees.
"We've broken through that bias by making sure our two-year degree programs offer the right skill sets," he says. "Our students are trained in skills rather than theory, and those skills are more applicable to the jobs." Jobs are available, he says, estimating approximately 1,000 IT positions are currently open in Williamson County.
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CSCC has approximately 300 students enrolled in various IT courses, up 40% from four years ago when the Williamson campus opened. These courses include cyber defense, mobile applications, data analysis, networking and programming.
CSCC recently received an $840,000 grant from the Governor's Investment in Vocational Education program to purchase a mobile unit that will help the college offer cyber defense courses to students in Williamson County Schools.
The unit will be a high tech transformable classroom that will offer traditional classroom seating and areas for students to brainstorm and work in teams while earning dual enrollment credits. The unit will also be used as the site for a hack-a-thon competition between schools to encourage students to pursue IT and cyber defense careers.
Tractor Supply Apprenticeships
CSCC and Tractor Supply Co., the largest operator of rural lifestyle retail stores in the country, have partnered to provide a capstone course in emerging technologies in the retail industry. The program focuses on exploring artificial intelligence, big data and analytics.
To participate in the apprenticeship program, students must go through an aptitude test and an interview process. Tractor Supply gives participants a project, something tangible that helps the student develop real-world skills. At the end of the course, students present their findings to Tractor Supply and the college.
CSCC graduate Nicholas Nosal says the Tractor Supply experience included working on a data analytics report for Petsense, a company purchased by Tractor Supply a few years ago. Nosal also took an AI course and learned Tableau, a data visualization tool.
"This program has provided me with on-the-job experience in a scenario that was unlike anything in the classroom," Nosal says. "It allowed me to work alongside a great company team and learn the most current systems of what professionals in my field are using today."
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Nosal graduated in 2020 with an associate degree in applied science and computer information technology with a concentration in programming. He credits CSCC faculty with helpings students to achieve their goals.
"I chose Columbia State initially because of proximity," Nosal says. "But after being there for a bit, it is easy to recognize that the professors there enjoy teaching you, and they want you to succeed."
If you'd like to learn more about the Williamson County area, check out the latest edition of Livability Williamson County, TN.