Part two of a series
In recent years, San Antonio has become a national cyber hotbed housing large information technology and security employers including USAA and Rackspace, the world’s leading specialist in the hosting and cloud computing industry.
With growing demand for an educated technical support workforce, Alamo Area Academiesdeveloped the Information Technology and Security academy in 2002 to allow local students a “fast track” to a potentially lucrative career path.
Gene Bowman, executive director for Alamo Area Academies, said the IT academy is located at Port San Antonio and was established in an effort to resolve a huge industry need for a pipeline of qualified and skilled individuals needed in IT workforce.
“Our community has a need for high paying careers enabling the community to be prosperous and vibrant – a quality place to live and raise a family,” he explained. “With industry at the table helping to align the college curriculum to meet industry requirements, you then have a model where students learn valuable, high-tech skills that the nation and industry need to drive our economy and successfully compete in a global market.”
According to the Greater San Antonio Chamber of Commerce website, the IT industry has a significant presence in the San Antonio economy with an economic impact of $8 billion in 2008.
A chamber survey of San Antonio’s largest employers found that approximately 4,800 IT professionals are employed at just 20 large non-IT enterprises and the average wage within the IT industry was substantially higher than the San Antonio average.
Bowman said all of the academies offer numerous benefits to junior and senior high school students wanting to exposure to a college environment as well as paid internships and possible employment opportunities within their respective industries.
“The Alamo Academy graduates have a proven track record of success with 96 percent of the graduates continuing on with their higher education or obtaining jobs within their industry cluster,” he explained. “In addition, the Class of 2010 earned over $505,000 in scholarships.”
Jose “Ricky” Banda, a 17-year-old junior from Southwest High school, was one of five local IT academy students to win first place at the San Antonio Mayor’s Cyber Cup in December. This spring, Banda and his group will compete in the national championship in Washington D.C.
“Winning a major competition and then have the mayor come up to you and shake your hand doesn’t happen every day for students like me,” he said of December’s Mayor’s Cyber Cup competition. “We are all very proud of performing well and glad for the opportunities we have here at the academy.”
Banda said by enrolling in the IT academy, he has been given more opportunities to pursuing his dreams in the IT field than if he had chose to only study at his high school.
“This experience has been tremendous,” he said. “Compared to what I was already learning at [high] school, I’ve already gained a lot of knowledge in security networks and in all of the computer basics. My goal now is to get as far as I can professionally by the time I am 25 with my dream one day to work for Rackspace, a local company,” he added.
For more than two years, 18-year-old Zachary Adams, said he had to get up at 5 a.m. to catch the 6 a.m. bus to commute from his hometown in Boerne to the IT academy campus, located at Port San Antonio. But after earning $40,000 in scholarship money to attend Our Lady of the Lake University as an IT undergraduate student, Adams said the sacrifice has been worth it.
“Both of my parents are very proud of me at what I’ve been able to accomplish here at the academy,” he said. “I’ve been able to do a lot here as far as learning, getting an internship, and now getting money to go to college.”
“He sent me out to fix basic things on the computers and motherboards and do stuff like monitor conference room connectivity,” he said. “The company also got a virus within the first week I was there, so we also got to work on that [together] and decide the best way to fix the problem.”
Adams’ supervisor, Adam Reyes, lead technician for SWBC, said by partnering with the IT academy, students are not only given valuable work experience through internships but companies are also given insight into the next generation of workers.
“I believe the [internship] program gave us a unique insight to the training that the [Alamo Academies] provides to its IT students,” he said. “This also gives us an opportunity to work first hand with these students and gives us a sense of leadership that we can provide this and every generation that comes forward.”
Reyes said more industry support is crucial to the ongoing success of academy students.
“It is important to expose young students to real life working environments,” he said. “This allows them to understand and experience the dynamic of a company first hand. It provides the necessary insight to specific jobs and areas of training for each career field. This allows them a first-hand learning experience and a better grasp towards deciding a career that they will be happy with in the long term.”