Tech Center partnership offers students unique experience

WESTFIELD-Fourteen students at Westfield Technical Academy are participating in a pilot program through the Information Technology Department, partnering with employees at the city’s Westfield Technology Center to garner real world experience as they consider future career opportunities.

“Through the nurturing of this partnership, we are able to provide career exploration and experience opportunities to students,” said Lenore J. Bernashe, ITMLP, information technology manager for the City of Westfield, adding, “it enables the Technology Center staff to focus on higher need support calls, issues and project work.”

Westfield Technical Academy students are participating in a pilot project this year with city employees from the Westfield Technology Center. (KEVIN GRIMSLEY PHOTO)

Kevin Grimsley, chair of the Information Technology (IT) Department, shared a similar sentiment.

“The Technology Center is a part of our city and a huge part of our school system,” he said. “There is no more intimate group of city employees that interacts with our buildings than the team that keeps our schools connected to the world and to each other.”

Grimsley said the IT Department values strong connections with local technology companies such as the Westfield Technology Center that offers valuable insight in careers and access to possible job opportunities each year.

“With this being my first year as the department chair, it is extremely important that I help coordinate partnerships that move the program into a direction that fits with my future endeavors as the department evolves with me and the students that come through,” said Grimsley.

Students participating in the project include seniors Austin Cefaratti, Jenna Folsom, Jennifer Harvey, Phoenix Iserman, Jackson Lambert, Joshua Pedro, Ayanna White and Ksenia Zinchenko. Juniors involved in the partnership include Jered Fanska, Daniil Kravets, Justin Mantis, Julia Thompson, Naomi Winn and Valeriy Zagidulin.

Bernashe noted the Technology Center has been providing students with IT co-opportunities “off and on” for several years.

“With the pandemic, this was not possible to do this year,” said Bernashe, adding that since April 2020, more than 4,000 Chromebooks had been issued to students and staff.

“We were seeing a high rate of devices being returned for repair,” said Bernashe. “I reached out to Kevin to see if there was a way to have the students assist with this.”

Bernashe said in addition to the learning experience, “as a benefit to the students and school,” the Technology Center would provide a certification path for HP repair services.

“Lenore approached me with a need to solve a maintenance logistics problem, and I had a need to get students some real world experience in the middle of a pandemic where many of our industry partners are slowing down their hiring processes and transitioning to a work-from-home practice that isn’t suitable for cooperative education,” said Grimsley.

Both Bernashe and Grimsley agreed the project was a “right time, right place” situation to explore.

“We are very grateful for the opportunity that has been presented to us this year,” said Grimsley.

Currently, participants are being trained to perform repairs on Chromebooks, primarily ones used by students.

“They will be able to access the HP certification program, where successful students will receive a certificate that will allow them to be an HP Authorized repair technician,” said Bernashe, adding the certification will follow them when they graduate.

“They are also being given the opportunity to assist with device installation/refresh at the Technical Academy,” said Bernashe.

Examples of common repairs that students have also undertaken include keypad testing and replacement, broken screen replacements, and camera issues. Also, students have helped replace the Construction Technology Department’s related classroom PC’s and are currently working on a PC lab for the Manufacturing Technology Department.

Students have embraced the pilot project and note they were eager to dive in and learn new skills.

“I wanted to be part of this project because I felt like it would be a great opportunity to learn as much as I can about fixing computers,” said Ayanna White, adding, “I have appreciated being a part of this project mostly because it gave me more experience with troubleshooting which is what I’ll need the most experience on when going into cybersecurity.”

Jenna Folsom echoed that sentiment.

“I truly appreciated every moment being a part of this pilot project because it taught me that if I put my mind to something, I can do it,” said Folsom. “I also appreciated it because it made me realize that I am capable of these skills. I can now save some money with some repairs if I have some similar issues.”

Learning the ins and outs of computers has also been a plus for Jered Fanska.

“I wanted to be a part of this pilot project because I’ve always had a passion to work in repairing and building computers,” said Fanska. “From being a part of the Tech Center team I’ve learned problem-solving skills and perseverance.”

Daniil Kravets concurred.

“The reason why I decided to participate in the project is because I wanted to try something new,” said Kravets. “I really like being a part of this because I enjoy working with my hands and it’s easy for me to get involved with hands-on tasks.”

Network technicians from the Technology Center who are assisting with the project are Scott Lockwood, Prem Rai and Sam Blake.

“Having the students assist with the Chromebooks allows us to redirect our efforts throughout the schools and city departments,” said Lockwood, primary support technician, adding, “The students are doing a great job.”

Bernashe said the Technology Center is responsible for all technology support throughout the municipality, including the school department, staff and students, city departments, and public safety.

“During this pandemic support needs increased exponentially due to the issuance of 1:1 Chromebooks as well as the increased number of remote employees,” said Bernashe. “Our staffing level is quite lean, and support calls were increasing every day. This partnership is a win-win solution for both the school department and my team and the city as a whole.”

Grimsley explained that the repairs are being done in addition to the existing workload by each student.

“Students are expected to meet the expectations set at the beginning of the school year while fulfilling any live work,” said Grimsley. “We’ve devised a schedule that allows students to work on repair tickets for about 10 hours per week per student. The students stagger their times throughout the day so that the repair process is always active, students can work in alternating teams, and we can utilize our space efficiently.”

For Valeriy Zagidulin, the pilot project experience has also been a “fun and great way to learn new skills.”

“I have learned to diagnose and repair Chromebooks, quickly and efficiently,” said Zagidulin. “Being part of the pilot project has allowed me to learn new skills which I can use in my future career and it has been quite enjoyable.”

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