New program puts telecommunications on the curriculum

March 1, 1998

New program puts telecommunications on the curriculum

The Northeast Center for Telecommunications Technology promises to better prepare tomorrow`s telecommunications workforce.

GRACE F. MURPHY, Assistant Editor

The Northeast Center for Telecommunications Technology (nctt), located at Springfield Technical Community College in Springfield, MA, is developing a new model for telecommunications technology education. If the model proves successful, college and secondary school officials hope it will help meet the industry`s need for highly skilled technicians and engineers throughout New York State and New England.

Those collaborating on the project are Springfield Technical Community College; Hudson Valley Community College, Troy, NY; the New England Board of Higher Education, Boston; Minuteman Regional Science-Technology High School, Lexington, MA; and Bell Atlantic, New York City.

Last fall, the National Science Foundation lent a hand with a $3 million, three-year grant, and a renewable grant of $2 million for the fourth and fifth years of the program. Businesses in the private sector are expected to match the federal grant, and the community college has contributed $500,000.

James Masi, nctt`s executive director, says that the center will concentrate on bringing educational institutions up-to-date with the personnel needs of telecommunications industries. Program objectives are to

develop a new competency-based, in-

dustry-driven curriculum in telecommunications beginning in grade 11 through the associate degree level, culminating in a Bachelor of Science degree;

write, pilot test, and publish curriculum

materials in such formats as cd-rom, video, and multimedia, and improve telecommunications technology instruction and underlying math and science principles;

develop alternative instructional delivery

mechanisms, such as virtual laboratories and asynchronous learning Internet courses;

disseminate model program curriculum

materials regionally and nationally;

inform, attract, and recruit qualified high

school students, including women and minorities, with an emphasis on supporting the development of prerequisite skills in math, science, and technology.

Starting at the high school level can help involve the community, Masi says. "If we get into the community, people can see it`s not a fearsome or technophobic atmosphere we have here," he says. Community involvement also makes the recruitment of women and minorities easier and more successful, Masi adds.

Jim Amara, division coordinator of science and technology at Minuteman Regional Science-Technology High School, says that his school was selected as a partner in the project so it could lend its expertise to other schools. The school already has adult education classes in telecommunications networking, local area network technology, and cabling technology, and recently began offering high school courses. It has also developed a set of academic and technical skills that it has reviewed with telecommunications providers.

"Now we`re working with nine vocational schools that have shown interest in adding a piece of a telecommunications program into their curriculum. We`re helping them with the process of how to get [state] approval for a new vocational program," Amara says. "We feel this project will help raise the level of interest in telecommunications for students in high school who want to pursue this right out of high school, or at the associate level or bachelor`s level. It`s also a resource for teachers, school systems, and schools."

Jon Abeles, director of organizational effectiveness for Bell Atlantic, says the nctt and other national centers provide a pool of skilled potential employees for telecommunications providers.

"Two of the issues are retraining our workforce and upscaling them, and second, bringing in a whole new group of young, entry-level people who have the requisite skills that would be required for success in our environments," Abeles says.

By partnering with the nctt, Bell Atlantic can help shape a curriculum that will prepare students for the workplace and define where the industry is going, Abeles adds. On a technical level, students will learn and have access to the most current technology, such as advanced switching systems and fiber optics, and become familiar with the uses of technologies such as asymmetric digital subscriber line and Integrated Services Digital Network, Abeles says.

"Secondly, we found there are other skills and abilities besides the technical, such as communications skills [listening as well as speaking], teamwork, project leadership, critical thinking skills, and problem solving. Through working with the community colleges and also the linkage with the technical high schools and high schools in general, we begin to set the expectation of what students need to learn to be competitive in our industry for jobs," Abeles adds.

The nctt will also help improve the competence of teachers, he says. "Teachers will not be just disseminators of knowledge, but will also be responsible for learning and for producing a student who can use skills and knowledge on the job, rather than just a person who knows facts and does not know how to apply them. q

For more information about the nctt, contact James Masi at (413) 782-1344.

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