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CCN Focus: Savitha Pinnepalli, Chattanooga State 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 Savitha Pinnepalli, Department Head of Computer Information Technology at Chattanooga State Community College in Tennessee.

What do you teach?
I am currently teaching Java programming and System Analysis and Design.

How long have you been a teacher?  I have 20 years of teaching experience. I started teaching in 1999. I joined Chattanooga State Community college in August 2017 as Department Head/ Assistant Professor, Computer Information Technology where I manage TTP, AAS in Cyber Defense, Programming and Networking concentrations. I am also Adjunct Professor at UTC, Chattanooga.

Did you have a job in the industry prior to teaching?  I have worked during summers in industries and government jobs. I served as ERA Manager at the Office of Sponsored Programs and taught for eight years in the Computer Science Department at Louisiana State University.

What sparked your interest in teaching?
Teaching has always been my passion. I started teaching when I was 15 years old in back home in India. I taught Hindi language in an evening school. Our school’s motto was “Each one teach one”. I came to US in 1996 and completed my Master of Science at Louisiana State University in Engineering Science and was influenced by the computer science classes I was enrolled in at LSU and changed my career path to IT. Since I was interested in teaching, I further pursued a career in teaching IT. I have since been teaching higher education level classes in IT throughout the USA.

What is the secret to successfully teaching IT students?  Mentoring, motivating and providing students with resources, providing networking opportunities, and attending podcasts, webinars and conferences in addition to field trips to Oak Ridge National Labs (ORNL) in Oak Ridge, Tennessee and DC Blox Data Center in Chattanooga, Tennessee have helped our students to see first-hand the needs and demands of IT Industry. Our student club in partnership with student government association had the privilege to raise funds and take a field trip to ORNL. At ORNL students had the opportunity to tour Super Computers Summit, Titan and Everest. They also had the opportunity to tour 3d printing and the ORNL Manufacturing Demonstration Facility.

The DC BLOX is a multi-tenant data center provider in the southeast delivering the infrastructure and connectivity essential to power today’s digital businesses. Because the digital age changes the way businesses operate and deliver services, a foundational infrastructure is vital to the digital economy. Computer Information Technology students had the opportunity to see firsthand how the data center operates. Benny Middleton, director of sales at DC Blox, provided a tour of the facility and spoke to students about valuable IT trends and as well as the booming IT startup. Students have been able to connect theory with real world Industry implementations by these tours. The students visited to DC Blox helped them with connecting the technology gaps between academics and business.

In addition to the tours mentioned above, these tours also sparked the students curiosity in computers: Graphite Reactor, Spallation Neutron Source, High Flux Isotope Reactor, and Center for Nano Phase Materials Sciences and Aquatics Center sparked student curiosity in computing.

What is the biggest challenge in teaching IT?  The biggest challenge in teaching IT is that the field is constantly changing, and new innovations are being brought to the market at a faster pace than academics can deliver. Also, training students for technologies that currently do not exist and training students to be lifelong learners is a challenge. Students should be self-motivated, research and learn any new materials by trial and error, experimenting and building their own knowledge base. Because of varying degree of IT skills students possess, students have to be motivated to get certified after they complete the coursework. Classroom hands on training and subject matter expertise of our faculty drives the students to get certified through our capstone and internship class.

They should also have time management skills. IT projects have critical deadlines and hence time management skills are very important in this field.

And do you have a favorite class to teach? If so, why?  I like to teach System Analysis and Design class with Project Management that incorporates IT entrepreneurial skills.

What is the best thing about being a teacher?  Technology skills are must have skills in the world we live in. There is a digital divide between the haves and have-nots. Older generation must be trained so that we can have digital literate seniors. Younger kids should be provided the necessary devices and access to internet to bridge the gap caused due to digital divide. The best thing about being a teacher is when I have students email me that they have been offered a job and all the skills they learnt in a classroom setting are being used and implemented in their current positions.

What advice would you give an IT student that is about to graduate and enter the workforce?  The millennials are quick learners and are tech savvy. They can find freeware, open source, software, YouTube channels, TED Talks, podcasts to update their skills. They can adapt to online delivery and meeting platforms like Teams, Zoom or WebEx. Social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn are their space.
In addition, students can create e-Portfolios and obtain the interviewing skills, critical thinking, presentation, communication, written and oral skills; problem-solving skills and ability to work in a team, leadership skills, quantitative skills; have strong work ethic and be detail oriented. Last but not least, technical skills and marketing skills are a must to survive.

How do you keep up with the ongoing evolution of IT?  I attend conferences, podcasts, webinars, take classes, write grants, conduct various IT events. I involve and engage students in tutoring, scheduling, mentoring advising in addition to interacting with students in our IT HUB student organization.

Savitha has implemented and coordinated the following events at Chattanooga State Community College:
• Girl Scouts STEM day
• Hour of Code
• Cyber Seniors
• IT Entrepreneurship project
• STEM outreach

Her passion is motivating girls and women to pursue Technology fields and careers. She has partnered with Engineers club in Chattanooga to continue her passion of teaching.

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