Technology continues to develop at a rapid pace, and higher education institutions in Lake and Sumter counties aim to prepare students.
Story: Theresa Campbell
Beacon College, Lake Technical College, and Lake-Sumter State College have designed courses and degree programs to match today’s technological-focused workforce.
Game design and animation courses are popular at Beacon College, the first accredited institution of higher learning to award bachelor’s degrees to students with learning disabilities, so the school created a game design minor under the computer information systems major.
“Through the game design course, students not only learn about the gaming industry, they are also exposed to business, marketing, programming, digital media, and various technologies,” says Dr. James E. Fleming, chair of business and technology at Beacon.
Armon Colzie, a 2017 Beacon graduate, believes Beacon was right on target to offer the gaming course. “Students love to game, and gaming is the industry’s trend now,” he says.
Applied cybersecurity, automotive service technology, practical nursing, medical assisting, and computer systems and information technology are among 28 different courses offered at Lake Tech’s main campus in Eustis, with additional locations Clermont and the Institute of Public Safety in Tavares.
“You can come here and get a career in a year,” says Dr. Diane Culpepper, executive director of Lake Tech. “It’s quick training; it’s current and relevant to the jobs and industries in our communities because we only prepare people for careers to get hired in Lake County and our region.”
Welding, one of the popular courses in high demand, has a waiting list. The college says local employers pay starting salaries up to $80,000 for those who learn advanced welding techniques.
“I am excited about the enthusiasm the community has for Lake Tech graduates and excited about our renewed partnership with Lake-Sumter State College,” the executive director says. “We are doing many things together, and I think that is great for our community and our students.”
One partnership between the two colleges is a technology management degree for students who graduate from a Lake Tech program and then go to Lake-Sumter to learn management skills for career advancement.
Layne Hendrickson, the emergency medical services instructor for the EMT and paramedics programs at Lake Tech, demonstrated Apollo, a high-fidelity simulation mannequin that helps students learn basic and advanced life-support measures. Students can assess Apollo’s breathing and blood pressure, hear heart tones, and palpable pulses, and Apollo responds to questions
“This is a great assessment tool,” Layne says. “We want to make sure when students leave our program they have a better opportunity, more than just an entry-level EMT or an entry-level paramedic. We want to give them opportunities so they are ready and there is not a big learning curve.”
Lake Tech notes local industry information on starting salaries for EMTs is up to $32,000, while paramedics can make up to $50,000.
Mark McKinney instructs the auto service technician program, which is in demand by local employers with starting salaries up to $45,000.
“We get seven, eight, 10 calls a week,” he says. “We don’t have enough students to keep up with demand. This is a very difficult field because it involves a lot of critical thinking. If something breaks down, the technician has to think to fix it right away. We are electrical guys, plumbers, chemists, and we get into the anatomy of the automobile.”
Students learn the latest diagnostic and repair skills to troubleshoot and repair complex automotive systems, which can be done via remote programming.
“Someone could be sitting in California and talk to a car right here,” he says. “They can talk and repair the car to a certain extent if it’s computer related.”
Spy glasses, equipped with miniature cameras, are used in class, too.
“I cannot always get in the space where students are, for instance, if they are underneath the wheel well of a car, so [spy glasses] come in handy to record what they are doing,” Mark says. “They complete the job, we hook it up and see what they did, give pointers on what is wrong or what tools they should use.”
The automotive class has a car and other pieces of equipment set up to a QR code, similar to a barcode, which students can digitally scan.
“If we train them on how to use this machine, a week from now they may forget some. The video lessons are linked on YouTube, so the videos help them recall how to use it,” Mark says. “We are self-paced with students at different levels…We like to say it is not what you know, but it’s knowing where to go to find the right information.”
Lake-Sumter State College
Digital forensics, health information technology, computer information technology, information technology analysis, STEM (science, technology, engineering or math) transfer program, electrical distribution technology, and engineering technology, with a specialization in relay substation technology, are among the tech-related courses available at Lake-Sumter State College.
“LSSC’s electrical distribution technology program is one of only two degree programs in the country preparing students for in-demand and high-paying jobs with electric utilities,” says Kevin Yurasek, director of marketing and college relations.
The college recently invited students from local high schools to the Sumter County to see a live line-safety demonstration from Duke Energy employees to learn career opportunities.
The energy industry is one of the fastest-growing fields to offer jobs and competitive wages across the United States and the world. Starting salaries are in the $40,000 range.
“Lake-Sumter is training our future workforce,” says Bob Seigworth, director/program manager of energy technology programs at LSSC.
Dr. Stanley Sidor, LSSC president, praised line workers as the hardworking men and women who install and maintain power lines, and the ones who go out in the middle of a storm to restore power.
“Our placement rate with students is very impressive. If you can make it through the program, I would say you have a 90 percent chance of getting a job because there is a shortage in the industry,” Dr. Sidor says.
Students benefit from the college’s “strong partnership” with local energy employers.
“They help us enhance our curriculum by helping us design a program that fits their needs,” says Dr. Sidor, who publicly recognized Duke, SECO, the city of Leesburg, and Sumter County Economic Development as viable partners for the college.
Other technology-related fields in demand include health information technicians. They assemble patients’ medical history, symptoms, examination results, diagnostic tests, treatment methods, and all other health-care provider services.
“The job outlook is 15 percent growth in job openings between now and 2024 in Lake and Sumter counties for health information professionals,” says Brandy Ziesemer, program manager at LSSC. “Most years, the placement rate of our graduates is 100 percent.”
She says those who become credentialed as registered health information technicians or certified coding specialists could make $20 per hour.
Computer information technology is a popular degree that allows LSSC students to expand their knowledge of software, hardware, networking, and programming.
“We teach networking, security, digital forensics, database administration, project management,” says Betti McTurk, program manager, who notes students range from high school graduates to adults seeking promotions or career changes.
“I have an 81-year-old engineer in my class; he is one of my top students,” Betti says. “One of our students works with a well-known company. I just received an email that his boss is looking for additional graduates. It shows the success of our curriculum.”