CCN Focus: Louise Kowalski, SUNY Erie Community College

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 Louise M. Kowalski, Information Technology professor at SUNY Erie Community College, Buffalo, New York.

During the 2018 CCN Summit, Louise Kowalski received a certificate from Dr. Ann Beheler for his participation.

What do you teach?  I teach Systems Analysis & Design (capstone course); Introduction to IT; Intro to IoT; Intro to Cybersecurity; Digital Forensics and Cyber Security Legal, Ethical, and Regulatory Framework.

How long have you been a college teacher?  I have taught for 19 years and served as Department Chair of Information Technology for 18.5 years.

Did you have a job in the industry prior to teaching?  Yes, prior to teaching I worked in private industry.  My last position was at a financial institution.  I was a VP of e-Commerce.  Launching our e-Commerce website was a great opportunity to work with various groups and learn about security, encryption, customer experience, and web development. Prior to that I was an AVP/Distance Learning Manager for the USA division of a financial institution (40,000 employees). I wore many hats in private industry.  The great thing about IT is you are never doing the same thing over and over; you’re always learning.

What sparked your interest in teaching?

Being an AVP/Distance Learning Manager for the USA division of a financial institution sparked my interest.   In that role, I developed a training program that was utilized to train all new employees on the mission, vision, values and goals of the organization as well as simulations of internal systems.  Teaching was my way of “giving back” to the community.  I truly love teaching and assisting students in achieving their academic and career goals.
Presenting for Girl Development

What is the secret to successfully teaching IT students?

Real world experience is very important when teaching IT; I stay abreast of technology trends by remaining active with the IT industry. In my classes, students are told there is no “box,” and anything is possible with technology.  Each semester students are challenged to design an Information System.   They use the SDLC to design an IS from idea to implementation.  They are introduced to various SDLC methodologies and best practices.  They also get an opportunity to use MS Visio and MS Project. It is a difficult course but the students all tell me it really helped them understand all the resources required to design an IS.  Many students present their ideas to their employers and some even start-up their own businesses based on their idea.  Their ideas are amazing and many of my students have become CIOs and CEOs.  I don’t just teach technical skills.  I also assist students in developing their life and career skills.  These are just as important as technology skills.

In 2017, my team received the 2017 “Best Tech Team in Non-Profit / Education”in WNY award.  This was confirmation that the SUNY ECC IT team is doing their best to provide industry with employees that have relevant skills. Most of my classes utilize OERs (Open Educational Resources) so that students do not have to purchase textbooks.  Videos, discussion forums, and hands-on labs are also incorporated into all of my classes, and all of my materials are available online. Many of my students attend local IT conferences and events with me so they can network with Industry professionals and get noticed.

What is the biggest challenge in teaching IT?  There are no challenges, just opportunities.  The opportunity related to teaching IT is and will always be ensuring the curriculum, equipment, and systems are current.  The educational system does not always move as fast as industry so instructors must do all they can to insure the currency of their program. Educational institutions need to assist in training their instructors on an on-going basis.

And do you have a favorite class to teachIf so, why?  My favorite class is my “Systems Analysis and Design” course.  It is a capstone course and students design an Information System and also develop their LinkedIn profiles and e-portfolios to begin career networking.  It encompasses everything they learned in their other courses and they are required to look at Information Systems from both a conceptual and detail-oriented perspective.  It is a challenging course and I love when students embrace the material.  Many of my former students tell me this class was the most helpful in their IT career.

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What is the best thing about being a teacher? The students, of course!  Teaching is not as easy as some may think.  I like using various learning methods for my students since we don’t all learn the same.  I love interacting with my students and assisting them.  This does not just include academics.  Most community college students have a job and family thus limiting the amount of time they can spend on their studies.  I assist students with time management, writing, presentation, and other skills that they will need to be successful.  I believe “teaching” is my special sauce.  It’s definitely my passion and my special purpose.

What advice would you give an IT student that is about to graduate and enter the workforce? Always in all ways do your best.  Get involved with IT organizations, remain current, think of every situation as an opportunity to present your best self, and know that it is okay to fail.  If you never try something new you will never fail.  I try not to use the word “fail” and instead use the word “practice.”

How do you keep up with the ongoing evolution of IT?  Every summer, I complete training.  This summer I completed AWS Cloud training (thank you, CTC).  I like to develop curriculum since it gives me an opportunity to gain new skills and expertise that I can share with my students.  I love learning!

Thank you, CTC, for all you do to advance the IT programs across the USA!

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