Closing the IT Skills Gap at Ranken Technical College

The primary mission of Ranken Technical College is to provide comprehensive education and training to prepare students for employment and advancement in a variety of technical fields. NetApp 360 sat down with Ron Vaughn, one of the college’s IT instructors and Microsoft IT Academy administrators, to talk about the NetApp Certified Storage Associate (NCSA) program and how he is leveraging it in the classroom.


What value does vendor-sponsored learning have in higher education, particularly for an IT department?

Vendor-sponsored learning enables an institution to offer students the curriculum necessary to succeed in the specific area of an industry. If vendors did not supply academic institutions with a guideline to follow, a number of areas would be negatively impacted.  Instructors wouldn’t know where to apply focus during the everyday delivery of the subject matter. Student outcomes might not align to what the industry is demanding from graduates. Upon completion of a course, students wouldn’t understand how their skills transfer to job opportunities in the industry or what equipment is being used in the field.  Leveraging curriculum from a vendor allows academic institutions to offer training that is current and in demand.


Budgetary constraints are also a very large issue.  Prices for industry training materials and equipment can run into the thousands and even hundreds of thousands of dollars. These expensive trainings would be cost prohibitive to offer at some educational institutions including Ranken Technical College. Ranken is a private, not-for-profit institution that relies solely on tuition, lab fees, and donations to fund its educational system. If it were not for vendors like the NetApp Academic Alliance program, our students might not be able to meet the demands of becoming IT professionals.


How is Ranken Technical College leveraging the NCSA program?

Ranken Technical College leverages industry programs as a main focal point of the current educational offerings. Every department at Ranken holds advisory committee meetings of the division heads, instructors, and hiring industry managers. During the meetings, we ask the industry managers to review the current courses and the course-level and program-level outcomes to obtain feedback based on current IT industry needs. The NCSA program was an answer to one of the biggest questions we received from industry, "Where does storage fall into your curriculum?" Even though the NCSA program is geared toward a specific vendor certification, it gives students the basic knowledge, terminology, and opportunity to gain an entry-level data storage position at a time when remote storage and cloud technology are rapidly expanding.


You’re always researching new cutting-edge technology to benefit students after graduation. How does the NCSA benefit the students who take the virtualization technology portion of your program?

The need for storage expertise has grown during the virtual boom. With virtualization growing rapidly, corporations are downsizing their on-premises IT infrastructures and pushing everything to a hosted service environment. The offsite-hosted service generally runs in a virtual environment. A single high-end server can house many virtual servers performing a multitude of functions for several corporations, including storage services. New graduates need to have some background in storage area networks and network attached storage to secure the jobs in demand by these corporations. The NCSA certification shows proof of fundamental storage knowledge in an ever-expanding field.


Have you or any of your students completed the course and earned the certification?

I have completed the entire course, and so have 17 of my students. Three people have passed the rigorous certification exam—2 students and myself. I am very excited to be the first Academic Alliance faculty member in the world to have passed the exam and also very proud to have the first and second Academic Alliance students to have passed as well! This is one of the toughest certification exams I have ever taken. It wasn't the difficulty of the questions that made it tough, it was the newness factor. It was something that I knew very little about before attending the program, but now I have the expertise to teach the NCSA again next semester and for years to come.


Congratulations to your and your students!

I don't see the NCSA program referenced on the Ranken Technical College website.  Is it currently available to any Ranken student, or is entry to the program limited?

It is part of the Information Technology program degree program.  It is open to anyone who enrolls in the IT program and who declares the Full Server track.  I am in the process of implementing the curriculum during the evening program as well.