Seagate gives students a chance to consult with professionals
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High school students rarely have an opportunity to act as consultants to major corporations.
But that's what 25 information technology students from Forbes Road Career and Technology Center, Monroeville, got last week at Seagate Research Center in the Strip District.
Researchers from Seagate, a leading manufacturer of digital storage products, had asked the students to propose new applications for wireless and network-attached hard drives in everyday life.
Dressed for business, the students presented dozens of scenarios via PowerPoint presentations in Seagate's corporate theater. Some students had taken their task a step further by building prototypes to demonstrate their ideas.
The opportunity for students to consult with professionals was provided by the Adventures in Technology program, a joint effort of Three Rivers Workforce Investment Board, Catalyst Connection and The Pittsburgh Technology Council.
Acronyms and buzz words from the world of information technology flew fast and furiously during the student presentations, to be sure. The vocabulary was baffling for the casual computer user, but not for the professionals in the audience, many of them Ph.Ds.
Amid this alphabet soup emerged real-life applications that almost anyone could understand -- hard drive storage units set up to allow people to open doors without keys, proffer a virtual ID, shop at the mall without credit cards or cash, even to have instantaneous access to one's whole digital life -- from favorite music to the smallest detail in an e-mail message from months ago.
The student projects not only soared with cutting-edge innovations -- biometric fingerprint recognition and such -- but also labored over the more mundane aspects of making systems secure from hackers.
With project names like Fidelity, Altacella (Latin for "large" and "storage") and Logged Life, the projects sounded ready for prime time.
"They certainly did their homework," said Ed Skalko, Seagate's director of exploratory technology.
The 5-year-old Adventures in Technology program invites high school students to participate in a hands-on problem-solving activity with a local company. Depending on the company's need, students may be asked to design and build a product or to re-engineer an existing product, process or system.
Funding for the program is provided by the Lois Tack Thompson Fund of the Pittsburgh Foundation.
In addition to improving their technical skills, students learn business terminology, time-management skills, teamwork and how to make a professional presentation. Since 2002, the program has facilitated 24 partnerships between high schools and industry.
This school year, the program is focusing on students in six information technology programs affiliated with the worldwide Cisco Networking Academy.
Other participants are Mt. Lebanon, Parkway West, Peabody, South Side in Beaver County and Job Corps.
The Forbes Road students were fortunate to be matched with an industry leader like Seagate, said George Karnbauer, instructor in the Computer and Network Engineering Technology program at the school.
"Seagate is research and development, cutting edge," he said. "For my kids to get a look at this stuff is fabulous."
The benefits of the partnership go both ways. Seagate gains insight from young people who have grown up with digital technology; the youths get a real project to grapple with and the experience of presenting in a business setting.
California-based Seagate es-tablished its research center in Pittsburgh in 1998 and moved into its Strip District building in 2002. Jason Goldberg, research staff member at Seagate, coached the Forbes Road students.
Seagate's Skalko is an electrical engineer who graduated from Highlands, a school well represented at the event. Back in high school, he had also taken courses at Forbes Road.
"We're trying to encourage these students to pursue science and technology careers," he said. "We gave them a very broad project challenge and asked them to approach it creatively.
"They covered many of the relevant technologies, such as Bluetooth, WIFI, mobile storage in automobiles and games, GPS tracking and backing up their data.
"All in all, they did their homework to understand the applications for hard drives and the potential problems that industry is working on today."
Mr. Karnbauer also praised his students, noting that several went beyond the assignment and built hard drive prototypes with their own funds and time.
"These kids are problem solvers who want to build things to put in their own hands," Mr. Karnbauer said.
The three organizational sponsors of Adventures in Technology are dedicated to developing a workforce in our region that is proficient in science, technology, engineering and math.
The Three Rivers Workforce Investment Board is a group that guides decision-making on regional development to ensure that current and future market needs of business and job seekers are met.
The Pittsburgh Technology Council is the largest regional technology trade association in the United States. It focuses three main industries: information technology, life sciences and advanced manufacturing.
Catalyst Connection is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to advance the performance of small- to medium-sized manufacturing and technology companies. It is involved in developing a "pipeline of talent for the region," said Scott Dietz, who handles project coordination for Adventures in Technology.
"The program is really phenomenal for the students," said Mr. Dietz, adding that he is proud of businesses that have stepped up, including Seagate.
"Seagate's products are in many of the devices that kids use, like iPods," he said. "We try to open [the students'] eyes to what's in their own back yard."
The Forbes Road students who participated were (school or districts included): Chris Feick, Boyce Community Middle College; Ed Tworek, Brandon Sherry, Scott Moore and Shaina Woods, Gateway; Charles Provance, Penn Hills; William Swank, Collin Thomas and Matt White, Plum; Zach Rothrauff, Riverview; Philip Whismer, Western Pennsylvania School for the Deaf; Robert Reese, Wilkinsburg; Christian Jefferson, Steve Deere, Brandi Polovina, Matt Trautman and Sean Yates, Woodland Hills; Evan Wienskovich, Kristopher Cummings and Ian Sweet, Allegheny Valley; and Ondress Berkley, Matt Kopka, Noah Purdy, Larry Suman and Zachary Savoie, Highlands.
First Published February 14, 2008 6:01 am