Real World

Helping others get more than a foot in the IT door.

Because he has a young face, the only way you can tell Michael Rodgers from some of his students is that he tends to dress better. He speaks with the dulcet accent of a native Tennessean. And from his empire, which fits inside two classrooms at Dyersburg State Community College, Rodgers could change the face of IT education.

I came to know Rodgers when he kept showing up at our conferences with a ragtag bunch of people who acted as volunteers. These were Rodgers’ students. And they weren’t all straight from high school. Some were career changers put through the two-year Communications & Information Technology Degree program by state money.

The way Rodgers figures it, by bringing them to these events, his students get to sit through classes and see how professionals act, dress and talk in a business environment.

Rodgers has a background in IT, having worked as the senior network engineer and director of IS for a hospital conglomerate and as the security and network manager for a regional ISP out of Memphis. He also works for a consulting firm that provides security and network management services.

He taps his contacts to set up internships for his students, a requirement of the program. “I call these people and say, ‘Hey, I’ve got a student who really wants to get into this area. I know you’re working on this new project. It’s not going to cost anything. What do you think?’” Rodgers says.

Rodgers also takes field trips closer to home. He’s hauled groups of students to network operations centers, telephone offices (“so that when they hear the terminology, ‘CO,’ ‘demarc’...they see what it’s like”), the local Cisco office, Microsoft events.

“I can talk until I’m blue in the face,” he says. “But it’s not the same as taking the students and putting them into the actual physical environment. Here’s the chair where you’ll sit and work. These racks and rows of servers, here’s what you’re going to do on a daily basis.”

He’s not shy about asking for corporate support. Microsoft Press recently donated $7,000 worth of material. Companies like Cisco, 3Com, SonicWALL, WatchGuard Technologies, Internet Security Systems and Check Point Software have provided demo equipment for weeks at a time so that students can install it, configure it and test it in their classroom network. A corporate sponsor picked up the tab to house students at a recent conference. He’s pushing Cisco to donate a wireless lab.

In a country mesmerized by celebrity hype, stories of teachers doing their job in west Tennessee don’t rank high—except when one of them turns what could be an ordinary job into an extraordinary endeavor.

Do you know somebody doing an uncommon job? Share the story at [email protected].

About the Author

Dian L. Schaffhauser is a freelance writer based in Northern California.

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