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Students Get the Lowdown on High-Tech Jobs

Workplace Tour Part of New AP Computer Course

Remington Switzer has been “messing with computers” for most of his life, loves gaming and is interested in a career in programming. But visiting a local website and apps development firm made him realize how many ways he could put his skills to use.

“It’s cool you can have a lot of different things to do,” said Remington, a senior, after spending an hour at Mighty in the Midwest in downtown Grand Rapids. His classmate Trey Laven, a junior, agreed: “It showed me that this could actually be a nice job to do, and the workplace seems to be very nice.”

Operations specialist Jeffrey Songco emphasized the importance of teamwork

That was the point of the visit by 30 students in AP Computer Science Principles, a new class launched this year to help students better prepare for opportunities in the tech field – and help fill a talent need for companies like Mighty in the Midwest.

The yearlong course for grades 10-12 students, along with a trimester general computer science class for 9-12, aims to teach students the computer skills needed for a workforce increasingly hungry for them. The field trip brought home the wide variety of jobs available, and not just in Silicon Valley, said teacher Rick Laven.

“I just wanted to show them we have this stuff in Michigan, too,” said Laven, Trey’s father. “You don’t have to go to California to work for a tech company. Right here in Grand Rapids we have great opportunities for technology jobs.”

And those jobs aren’t just at tech firms. Students also saw how the Grand Rapids Police Department uses technology and met with a Spectrum Health app development team.

District Technology Push

Rockford adopted the AP Computer Science Principles class after the College Board developed it last year, Laven said. Both new courses are part of a districtwide push for enhanced technology instruction, boosted by the $76 million bond issue approved by voters in 2014.

Copywriter and content strategist Molly Singleterry told students she started out in the newspaper business

Laven was asked if he would teach the courses, given his background in developing websites for businesses and Rockford athletic teams. He received training from the College Board to help students understand how computers work, introduce them to programming and expose them to the broad range of jobs where they could use their tech skills.

“My goal is to show them a variety of career-related fields (in computer science), not just thinking of one person sitting at a desk, creating something cool and making a million dollars,” Laven said.

His students saw plenty of cool stuff at Mighty in the Midwest, which could earn them a good living if not $1 million. They toured the firm’s airy office overlooking Van Andel Arena, where its youngish workers sat hunched over computers. It’s grown from one employee to two dozen in the 10 years since its founding, serving clients such as the Grand Rapids Griffins, ArtPrize and Hope College.

The firm often hires people right out of college, and students with programming experience are going to have “a leg up” for hiring, said senior developer and user experience strategist Jeremy Abrahams.

“There still is a bit of a shortage” for qualified tech workers, Abrahams said. “Somebody that has those skills would have a relatively easy time finding work.”

Developer Alex Carpenter said his first job was working at his parents’ feedmill in Lowell, but after studying photography found he had a passion for web development

Many Ways In

He and other employees described their jobs and their circuitous routes to landing them. Abrahams, 40, has a criminal justice degree from Grand Rapids Community College, and got into the field by being in “a crappy band that needed a website.”

“There’s no direct route to ending up at a place like this,” Abrahams told the group. “You guys already have a unique and cool head start.”

Molly Singleterry was an English major at Michigan State, started out working at the Lowell Ledger newspaper and had seven jobs before coming to Mighty. She is a copywriter and content strategist, and helped the City of Grand Rapids redesign its website.

“It’s a really great place to learn if you can get in someplace like this and have the desire,” said Singleterry, 32.

As two of five girls in the AP computer class, juniors Mary Selasky and Brianna Thebo liked what they heard. Though neither plans on a career in IT, they see its value for their fields of interest – health care for Brianna and business for Mary.

“Technology is getting so involved with business, so it’s very good to have that background,” Mary said. “You can’t find a profession that doesn’t use computers in one way or another.”


Mighty in the Midwest

The Gap Between Computing Jobs and Qualified Grads, by State

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Charles Honey
Charles Honey
Charles Honey is a freelance writer and former columnist for The Grand Rapids Press/ MLive.com. As a reporter for The Press from 1985 to 2009, his beats included Grand Rapids Public Schools, local colleges and education issues. Honey served as editor of The Press’ award-winning Religion section for 15 years. His freelance articles have appeared in Christianity Today magazine, Religion News Service and the Aquinas College alumni magazine. Read Charles' full bio or email Charles.


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