(Courtesy of Jacksonville.com)
Menus opened and closed so quickly on the computer screen it seemed impossible Chris Nelson knew exactly what buttons he was hitting. But, he scrolled through the options without hesitation as he worked to wipe and then re-install software on about 15 computers for the Duval County School District.“It’s all memory now,” said Derek Ro, who worked beside Nelson on an additional 15 units.
He was referring not to computer data, but instead to the fact the two students no longer needed each step explained. They didn’t need guidance on basic troubleshooting tasks. Instead, the two 19-year-old college freshmen worked efficiently with shortcuts they discovered on the job.
Both Ro and Nelson are participating in an inaugural summer internship opportunity through the Duval County School District and Emtec, an information technology consulting company.
The business, which has offices in Jacksonville, hired contractors to assist the school district for the last three summers and supplemented those workers with a handful of local students. As it became more obvious to Emtec and the district how much work students could handle, they became more integral to the company’s summer workforce. This year, a group of 110 interns from throughout area high schools were selected to receive training and hands-on experience in the IT industry.
It is the first time Emtec has taken over the hiring process — and been able to employ nearly an all-student staff to complete necessary technology-related tasks for the district over the summer. Never before, says district staff, have students been used on such a large scale.“This program is amazing,” said Jim Culbert, executive director of the district’s IT Department. “By the end of the summer, the students will have cleaned, re-imaged and tested about 68,000 computers, which is all the student laptops in the district. The advantage of that for the teachers is that when we come back, everything has been refreshed.”
Through the partnership with Emtec, the district can employ a larger number of students but also include those currently enrolled in local high schools. Before, when the school district hired internally, fewer than 50 students could be brought on to assist and they all had to be over 18 years old. Now, Emtec allows students who are at least 16 to participate. For approximately 32 hours a week, students earn $10 an hour to learn a skill in a burgeoning industry.
According to Culbert, it is more than that.
A Student at the Univeristy of North Georgia, re-images laptops in the media center at Mandarian Oaks Elementary. (Photo Credit: Bob Self/Florida Times-Union)
The students get experience writing a resume, applying for a job and interviewing for the position. Emtec then treats each individual as a full-time worker. The supervisors are mostly Duval County School District teachers and support staff.
By August, the students will have helped Emtec to clean and sanitize computers, check for cracked screens and broken keys, and assure district asset tags are still attached. They will remove old computer operating systems from the Lenovo Yogas and then intall new Windows 10 systems — a process with more than 25 steps.
“I’ve been doing IT for over 30 years, and you have to find the time where you find the interest, where you feel like you could see it being your career,” said Mike Marino, an employee with Emtec. “So, having a job where the students are working during the summer — even though it’s eight weeks — they are engaging every single day in technology.”
They also get the opportunity to interact with experts in the field. If a complicated problem arises with one of the computers, a student can call one of the district’s staff members in its IT department. That interaction, Culbert said, benefits the district employees as well.
Many of the students who have participated in the program’s previous models continued their studies in the information technology field. Several returned to work in the Duval County School District IT department.
Andrea Celis, a senior at Sandalwood High School, says she took several technology classes at her high school before this summer. On Friday, as her fellow interns worked around her, Celis focused on erasing software from a cart of about 30 computers at Mandarin Oaks Elementary. The school had roughly 720 computers the group had to erase and then restore . It would take them a couple more days.
“I was nervous because it sounded so legit,” Celis said about the program. “It wasn’t just a job. It wasn’t just getting paid. It benefits my future. Also, I’m working with an actual company, and I didn’t want to disappoint them.”
She usually dedicates 30 minutes to each cart — just to get the process going. Then, it takes two hours for each computer to run through the necessary deleting and downloading to prepare it for next year’s students. Celis said that day they’d struggled with some of the clips to keep the computers connected to the network.
Even though Celis sees a future in communications or marketing, she didn’t think the information she gleaned from this summer internship would be useless.
She said, “In some aspect, this will benefit me.”