Macon, Missouri, is a rural community of 5,500 people where agriculture is the major employer and, until recently, only one in ten adults have earned a college degree. Schools in Macon rarely give youngsters trips to museums, zoos, or other cultural experiences. Livestock and crop sales are the economic mainstay, but things are changing: the county is also cultivating a workforce that melds applications development to agribusiness and other industrial sectors.
“Many of the students in this part of Missouri have never left the county, much less thought of life beyond farming,” says Burdett E. Wilson, an instructor at the Macon Area Career and Technical Education Center (MACTEC). “Their concept of the outside world has been very limited, through no fault of their own.”
This limited worldview is one that Wilson is working to change by teaching computer science and broadening the horizon for a new generation. By offering MACTEC students courses in programming and database design, they are becoming part of a talent pipeline that matches the steadily growing local demand for computer skills. To ensure that his teaching leads to full time employment or higher education, he works closely with local businesses and colleges to identify their needs for computing graduates.
And, to help students graduate with industry-ready knowledge, Wilson’s courses follow the curriculum provided free by Oracle Academy.
Today’s farmers are using half-million dollar tractors with GPS and computers to harvest and plant crops.
In small communities, news generally spreads quickly. And, the word spreading in Macon is that students who enter the job market with computing skills can make good money, and that agricultural jobs are no longer the only jobs to be had in Macon.
“Parents with little or no frame of reference are sometimes unsure of the value of computer programming,” says Wilson. “But once they understand that computer skills lead to jobs at higher than average wages, more and more send their kids to my courses. Our school programs get talked about all over town.”
Parents appreciate that Wilson doesn’t just teach students about computing. He also actively works with businesses and colleges to promote careers in computer science.
“Today’s farmers are using half-million dollar tractors with GPS and computers to harvest and plant crops,” Wilson says. “Equipment manufacturers need people to program the machines that make and package our food here in rural America. MACTEC plays an important role.”
Teaching computing skills in school is only the beginning. “In our rural environment, it is important to have the community and businesses on board with our curriculum,” Wilson says. “I meet with employers to identify in-demand skills and to let them know what they can expect from students following courses such as Java Foundations, Java Programming, and Programming with PL/SQL.”
Wilson also brings the world to his classroom. He invites human resources professionals to his classes to conduct mock interviews, talk about working life, and help prepare students for the realities of a full time job. He introduces his students to college deans and professors, and his students have opportunities to sit in on college courses to open their eyes to what further education is like and can mean to their careers.
Instructors at regional community colleges say my graduates arrive on a par with second year students.
Most of Wilson’s students are the first in their families to study programming. Those students who go on to college or university are also usually the first in their families to pursue higher education—and they find themselves with a head start—thanks to their two years in Burdett’s classes at MACTEC.
“Instructors at regional community colleges say my graduates arrive on a par with second year students,” he says, “and they are given six hours of credit as a reward for their level of computer knowledge.”
In order to strengthen this connection, he helps local community colleges align Oracle Academy and Oracle’s certifications with their computer science programs.
“Certifications are important to rural schools that need to produce graduates with industry employable skills,” explains Wilson. “When you apply for a developer job at 19 and have an Oracle SQL or Java certification, you stand out in a crowd.”
Wilson also notes that as a free resource, Oracle Academy helps MACTEC control the costs of education.
Helping students gain computer science knowledge and skills doesn’t have to mean they will leave their rural hometowns for big cities. According to Wilson, MACTEC believes that “taking rural populations who don’t have many job growth options, training them, and providing challenging and rewarding IT careers presents opportunities where there were none, ensures spending locally, and inspires wealth creation.”
To date, nearly half of Wilson’s MACTEC graduates have been employed by a Macon-based computer outsourcing company. And, other graduates go on to pursue higher education. According to Wilson, the two years these students spend with MACTEC and Oracle Academy results in scholarships and advanced placement in college. “College is a stepping stone to a lucrative career in the technology industry,” says Wilson.
Whether the kids go to college out of high school or go directly to work, Oracle Academy prepares them for the real world.
For Wilson, Oracle Academy is a strong asset in his drive to make the Macon community aware of opportunities in computing. Why? Oracle Academy is a free source of high quality computer science instruction from a world-class company, teaches languages and skills used by professional developers, is continually updated, and is recognized by the technology industry.
“Oracle Academy is exactly what teachers need for beginners,” he says. “Whether the kids go to college out of high school or go directly to work, Oracle Academy prepares them for the real world.”