As a part of the National Convergence Technology Center (CTC) featured blogs, we would like to introduce to you some of our professors and instructors in the Convergence College Network (CCN) community. The CCN is a select cohort of community colleges and universities from across the country that connects IT educators with a wealth of resources to enhance their programs. In this week’s Q&A blog, we’re featuring Ernie Friend, Instructional Program Manager, Florida State College at Jacksonville (FSCJ). Ernie will share his journey as an Instructional Program Manager at FSCJ, which includes the pros and cons of managing IT.
What do you teach? I’m more of a manager over the IT program than a teacher, but I do teach some basic introductory computer classes. My primary position is managing the IT program as well as building new programs; reaching out to the business community; pursuing grants, recruitment, retention and other resources.
How long have you been a teacher, and what sparked your interest in teaching? I’ve been with Florida State College for 26 years. Twenty-seven years ago, I finished my bachelors and needed to do an internship. I was in the Navy at the time. I really liked what I was doing and after the internship was over, I volunteered for another three or four months. I got out of the Navy and started working for a company that maintained military flight simulators, which was a great job. I did that for about a year.
I was at the flight simulator company for about a year, then a permanent part-time IT position opened up at the school. I started at the very bottom just as IT was really growing. Within eight years, I went from an intern to running college wide IT. I ran all the IT resources for the college for about four or five years. We had built an advanced technology center. They had the money to build the center but no money to run the program. I asked my boss if I could do what I was doing plus take on the responsibility of running the IT program at the advanced technology center and they allowed me to do it. Within a year or two, I realized that I really liked the academic side better than working on the infrastructure side so I switched from overseeing the college infrastructure to overseeing the IT programs on the academic side and I have been doing that ever since 2001.
I really enjoy what I’m doing. The program had about 200 students when I first got involved, and we have over 2,000 now. We have great partnerships with the business community and schools around the country. I’m really proud of what the faculty and I have built over the years.
What is the secret to successfully teaching IT to students? My perspective from the management side is having qualified faculty and providing those qualified faculty with the training that they need. This entails obtaining grants and the hardware, software material that is most relevant to what a faculty member is teaching. That will allow the student to have the most current experience and provide the student with the support they need as they go through the program to understand what the opportunities are and how important it is as they progress through each of the courses to consume all the information. They need to be able to do it not only in the theoretical standpoint but from a hands-on standpoint as well.
What’s the biggest challenge managing IT? Something you have to get used to and accept as normal is there’s lots of changes. You certainly can’t rest on what you’re doing today because IT is constantly evolving. It’s super important to reach out to as many people as you can to understand what’s going on.
Definitely priority for me is understanding the needs of the regional business community because they dictate everything that we do. Once the faculty and I understand what the business community need, if it’s something that we need to update or create, then we figure out how do we get there; what resources do we need to create new programs? That’s why grants for me are constantly in the picture and making connections such as our connection with CCN. Through the vast network CCN provides, we are able to understand what people are doing and to leverage current experiences and opportunities.
How has the CCN helped you? The CCN by far certainly can help any school – no matter where you are – be on a national stage. Through the experience and work of Dr. Ann Beheler, Mark Dempsey and the rest of the team with the existing grant, they have created a platform that all of us can have a national presence through the BILT. That’s the biggest benefit for me: having access to people that are doing the kind of things that we want to do, making connections to show that our grants are more viable when we submit them, and being able to share what we do, I think is super important. That is one nice attribute to the CCN is that we’re all willing to share what we do. We create things and we don’t hold on to them, we quickly share them and by doing that I think we all benefit from it.
What is the best thing about being a part of CCN? The best thing would be the personal connections that you make either professionally or personally. I think by far the personal connections that you make are extremely invaluable and they could help propel a small or large school. You can move much faster and collaborate with people all over the country through the lens of the CCN.
What advice would you give a new community college joining CCN? Try to invest as much time as you can into all the resources that are available. Going back to my previous answer of what’s the best thing about the CCN is the connection. Certainly, make connections with as many people as you can to help develop the resources and the things you’re going to need in the future to make your own program successful.
Is there anything you would like to suggest improving the CCN program? They’re certainly doing a great job. I’ve been with the CCN and the previous version of this grant for 8 or 10 years and certainly seen it develop. Dr. Beheler has had some very talented people that are involved in the grant and the business community, so I think it has become a great institution over the years. One thing I would suggest is to continue doing the outreach that they’re doing. I know with the new structure of the NSF ATE grants, this is something I’ve spoken with Dr. Beheler about that maybe the CTC become more of a “hub and spoke” for all the IT related grants that are out there just to have a central focus; and people that want to create NSF projects can transfer it back to a central location. In a way it’s happening but not formally. I think that would be one way to improve or take a look at things long term.
How do you see the IT landscape changing in the next 5 years? There’s no doubt that Artificial Intelligence is going to have a big impact. There’s a lot of things that we’re having to do manually and over time machine-learning will be able to do for us. So, adapting to that, security will be a much larger focus for any organization, causing them to become more security aware focus is going to be important.
As the job market tightens like it is now, there’s zero unemployment. It’s so low that everyone that wants to have a job can find a job. If someone can quickly obtain a good job, how is that going to impact IT, and how is that going to impact people interested in IT? At one point, IT was great and offered a great salary, but now there’s a lot more competition out there with other careers that offer the same. So, how do we get young people involved in IT is going to be a challenge. But I think the CTC and CCN collectively can certainly solve those challenges. I’m looking forward to what the future brings.