Building a local high-tech workforce with Laramie County Community College
Cheyenne is located in rural Wyoming, an area with sparse populations and cool climate. While it was once difficult to attract businesses to the area, the tech industry began to see the area as an untapped resource. In fact, Wyoming has the fourth coolest yearly average temperature in the country, allowing datacenters to save on cooling costs. The remote area and low population density also help mitigate external security risks, making Cheyenne and surrounding communities ideal for datacenter operations. This influx of technology companies necessitated cultivation of a skilled, high-tech employee pipeline.
Enriching local IT training with hardware donations
To help build connections within datacenter communities, grow digital skills, and provide a local job pipeline, Microsoft provides support to STEM education in Cheyenne. Recently, Microsoft supplied computer equipment to Laramie County Community College (LCCC) in Cheyenne, including servers, fiber testers, memory testers, data racks, and networking equipment. The donated hardware is used on six mobile datacenter carts, offering a snapshot of a datacenter environment that can easily be used in the classroom. These contributions support students in the datacenter technician program by offering hands-on learning in the classroom, but ultimately the mobile carts will be converted into a more permanent datacenter lab.
The installation of equipment in the lab will be completed by students in the datacenter technician program, allowing students to use the skills they’ve learned in the classroom with the mobile carts, practice cable management, and lift and place server racks.
Microsoft also donated scholarship funding to IT students at LCCC, offering those who are historically underrepresented in STEM fields greater access to high-tech education. “As word gets out, thanks to the Microsoft partnership, enrollment is becoming more diverse,” says Troy Amick, LCCC program coordinator.
Simulating a real-world datacenter experience for hands-on learning
Through its Datacenter Academy program, Microsoft augments existing local IT programs, gives the opportunity for hands-on learning within datacenters, and organizes events in partnership with local education institutions. Students enrolled in Datacenter Academy programs gain basic understanding of datacenter equipment, computer hardware, operating systems, and network design, supplying them with real-world experience applicable to datacenter employment.
Students engage in hands-on learning and book-based education, finishing the program with a credit diploma certificate from LCCC and prepared to attain CompTIA A+, Server+, and Network+ certifications. These industry-standard certifications are stepping-stones to interviews and potential employment in local datacenters. Microsoft’s financial support alleviates the financial burdens of schooling, covering everything from books to tuition to fees for 12 students in the program’s first year. “I’m making a midlife career change and it was really hard to find funding. I couldn’t have done it without the scholarship,” said Sarah Ward, the first LCCC Datacenter Academy scholarship recipient, who has since been hired on at Microsoft. “I really love my job here; the people are wonderful, and I love the company culture,” says Ward. This relationship is beneficial to Microsoft, other local tech companies, and the community at large. As LCCC instructor Roger Findley states, “The partnership not only provides a trained workforce for today, but also ensures those who complete the program will have skills that are in demand for the future as well.”
Enhancing curriculum to prepare students for IT roles
LCCC has also been updating its curriculum to meet the needs of local datacenters that need more trained professionals. According to Findley, “I began looking at our courses to see which would line up with the needs of a Microsoft technician. Now we’ve updated our curriculum to fill those needs.” And while the hope is that some participants may go on to become employed at Microsoft, the skills learned will benefit any students interested in a high-tech career. The Datacenter Academy program develops a stronger relationship between businesses in the community and the community college while building a pipeline of potential employees and strives to keep a young, educated populace closer to home.
LCCC hopes to continue to build on their early success by completing construction on their datacenter lab, strengthening the scholarship program, increasing opportunities for job shadowing and internship experiences, and partnering on datacenter sustainability education projects. Long-term, they even hope to work with Microsoft to expand course offerings and expand the program into a four-year BS applied science degree.
Learn more about the Datacenter Academy Program at Laramie County Community College by visiting the Information Technology page on their website.
“At first, we'd be in class discussing 'what if' scenarios. In the second half of the semester, we got the blade servers. It was really helpful because it showed us how the server blades would be set up. It was a lot of fun!”—Ricardo Medrano, LCCC Datacenter Academy participant