McIlwain, Straub emphasize viable IT certifications open to teens

MADISON – Teenagers in Madison City Schools already know about technology avenues on campus.

Parents, too, can be confident that their students can gain a comprehensive, valuable foundation in the world of technology and computer science. This message permeated MCS Superintendent Dr. Ed Nichols’ recent podcast, “Sittin’ With the Supe,” with computer science instructors Bill McIlwain and Kim Straub.

Straub worked 10 years as a lawyer and switched careers in 2021 to teach “Advanced-Placement Computer Science Principles” and “IT Fundamentals” at James Clemens High School. McIlwain first worked in television broadcasting and at a hospital before switching to education and teaching “IT Fundamentals,” “Cyber Security I,” “Cyber Security II” and “Digital Video Game Development” at Bob Jones High School for the past four years.

Nichols’ podcast coincided with National Computer Science Education Week in mid-December.

Students can engage with CyberPatriot, a team competition that the Air Force runs to encourage students to start thinking about cybersecurity as a career or military pathway, Straub said.

All work “happens on campus. We can do everything on our (own) computers. Students use what’s called a ‘virtual machine,’” Straub said.

She compared that scenario to opening a tab while using the Internet. “Students open a tab and, all of a sudden, you’re in a brand-new Windows computer or Linux computer,” Straub said.

“CyberPatriot students have four hours to look at the new computer system and get rid of vulnerabilities. How can they harden the system? Teams of five compete against schools across the nation,” Straub said.

Bob Jones and James Clemens both have a CyberPatriot Team (named by the Air Force; no association with Bob Jones’ mascot).

Students now can participate in a national honor society for CyberPatriot. “Bob Jones was the first high school to start this program (which originated in New York). In 2024, 30 students will be members,” McIlwain said.

“When you hear ‘computer science,’ you always think about programming. We do have a ton of programming available. If you take all classes at James Clemens, you’ll have a passing knowledge of Java, Python, C and C++,” Straub said.

However, much more study is available. Students examine hardware configurations inside the computer in IT Fundamentals and Cybersecurity Fundamentals. “What do we need to get the Internet running?” Straub said about a class objective. Cyber Security I and II are more focused on computer safety.

The IT Fundamentals class looks at building a computer, placing it on a network (including switches and routers) and keeping it secure. “Scott Edwards from Summit7 has visited Bob Jones and talked with students. We have people engaged in the community from companies like Raytheon and Lockheed Martin,” McIlwain said.

“Students can work in a virtual realm, as well as having their hands on equipment in the classroom to make a network and (have it work) like in a real environment,” McIlwain said.

Professionals from the community speak during Refuel at James Clemens and Patriot Path at Bob Jones, Nichols said.

Many people don’t realize MCS offers certifications. “Number one . . . I emphasize that we offer certification in the field. IT Fundamentals is the entry certification,” McIlwain said. Other certs are Networking Plus and Security Plus.

Students can get good jobs at companies (like GigaParts) after graduation. “It has been a pleasure to see all this happening. With these certifications, you can make a good living,” McIlwain said.

Straub recently attended a conference and stated that she had high-schoolers who had passed the Security Plus exam for certification. Her fellow delegates were amazed that high school students were mastering this level. “They can put that on their resumes at 17 or 18 years old,” Straub said. “MCS has a good approach for building critical thinking skills for jobs of tomorrow.”

“It’s like being a kid of the 1960s and watching ‘Star Trek,’ and now it’s real. All of the things that we thought were fantasy are reality,” Nichols said. “Kids of today are getting a cutting-edge entrance into (this era) right here at James Clemens and Bob Jones,” Nichols said.

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