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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 Charles DeSassure, professor of Computer Science at Tarrant County College.

What do you teach? I teach cybersecurity and computer networking courses on campus and online.

How long have you been a teacher? I have been teaching at Tarrant County College, Southeast Campus for 19 years. Also, I have served three years as a public-school teacher and two years teaching at a private college in South Carolina.

Did you have a job in industry before you became a teacher?  For ten years, I worked in corporate America, where I traveled nationwide providing computer networking and security solutions for clients. I have had experience as an MIS Manager, system analyst, technical field analyst, LAN Administrator, and PC programmer.

What sparked your interest in teaching? During my early years after my undergraduate studies, I worked as a 5th-grade teacher in South Carolina Public School System for three years. But I had no idea that my teaching training would impact my long-term career. My dream was to always work in corporate America. While working in the IT department at Citigroup in the Carrollton, Texas office, I also worked as a computer science adjunct instructor for Tarrant County College, Northeast Campus. The Southeast Campus was open for about two years. The Southeast Campus administration reached out and offered me a full-time position. The goal was to help establish the computer science department. The campus president at the time, Dr. Judith J. Carrier, hired me on the same day of the job interview. That was 19 years ago, and the rest is history. I love teaching at the community college level.

What is the secret to successfully teaching IT to students? To successfully teach IT students, I believe that the instructor needs to show students the connection between concepts and reality. For example, the Open Systems Interconnection (OSI) is a conceptual model. But if the instructor can explain the relationships to students and how it relates to computer networking and cybersecurity, they usually perform better solving technical problems. Also, the ability to listen to students is essential. Students want to feel valued. Providing students with real-world, hands-on assignments is a must.

What’s the biggest challenge for teaching IT?  The most significant challenge in teaching IT is obtaining funding. IT is a rapidly changing field, and students must have access to equipment to receive the hands-on training needed to be successful within the job market.

Do you have a favorite class to teach? If so, why?  Cybersecurity or computer networking courses are my favorite courses to teach. These courses excite my interest and always challenge me to use my critical thinking skills. These courses challenge me to think beyond the norm to explore new approaches and ideas for solving problems.  Cybersecurity and computer networking consist of many components, and I believe it is essential to be open-minded to try different things to solve problems in these subjects.

I believe critical thinking skills are crucial in the field of cybersecurity and computer networking.  Implementing, designing, or modifying cybersecurity and computer networking assignments representing real-world situations is the best approach for students to develop their critical thinking skills.   Students must see the connection between the classroom and the real-world.   Also, the instructor needs to share stories of IT mistakes that they made along the way.  Storytelling always drives home meaningful messages and helps establish a connection with your students.

What is the best thing about being a teacher?  The best thing about being a teacher is when students email you and share their remarkable success stories. It could be that the student received a new job, a promotion; started their own IT business; or was accepted to a four-year college or university. These are statements that make you realize the impact that you are making to help students achieve their career goals.

What advice would you give an IT student about to graduate and enter the workforce? The advice that I would like to share with IT students is that they have to believe in themselves. Having a lack of confidence will never get you a job. Next, I encourage students to continue to read and learn. Learning does not stop once you graduate from college; it should continue. I also advise students to network with other IT learners. IT jobs are everywhere, and the ability to network will help. I inform students that the IT hiring process takes time. On an average, it will take about six months to locate a good IT job.

IT is always changing – how do you keep up with the ongoing evolution of IT?  At Tarrant County College, all full-time faculty are required to complete 24 hours of professional development hours. Therefore, each faculty can request funds to attend an educational conference, seminar, or specialized training. Besides these options, I hold membership in professional organizations and participate in many webinars relating to computer networking and cybersecurity. Next, I am reading current news and recent research publications regularly.

How do you see the IT landscape changing in the next 5 years?  IT has indeed come a long way over the last few years. During the early years, when I was in corporate America, IT was a study where only the selected few had access to information. IT has changed as it now provides everyone (with permission) to access the same information. Therefore, information sharing will continue. I feel that organizations will see an increasing need for data analytics specialists. Today, we talk about data analytics, but we are just touching the surface. I also feel that there will be a significant breakthrough in the area of artificial intelligence. Yes, artificial intelligence may have been around for years, but it will become more integrated into products for the market. Finally, cybersecurity will continue to play a crucial role in an organization’s IT infrastructure.

Is there anything else we should know but didn’t ask about? Students need to remember that IT courses require time. It is imperative to practice good time management skills because IT courses usually consist of a lecture and lab component. One of the major mistakes that students typically make, they underestimate the time commitment required to complete course assignments. Seeking a degree or certificate in IT is challenging, but the results will be rewarding in the long run. The goal is to stay focus and remember that your instructor is always available to help. Student success is the instructor’s success as well.

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