First WMU cohort gains critical computer networking certification

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KALAMAZOO--A select group of Western Michigan University students is participating in a newly established boot camp, preparing them for the globally recognized Cisco Certified Network Associate certification that will significantly enhance their computer networking credentials and put them on the fast track for entry-level and advanced positions in their field.

One student has completed all courses offered in WMU's new Cisco Networking Academy, passed the certification exam and received his CCNA certification. Three more students are expected to attain the same level of achievement by the end of the spring semester. They are the first to finish all courses offered by the new academy, which opened in fall 2010. Another 10 are completing the first set of classes.

"This is the certification that they can take anywhere in the world," says Dr. Pairin Katerattanakul, WMU associate professor of business information systems and the co-director of the Telecommunications and Information Management Program. "It is the worldwide standard. You can show it to anyone anywhere in the world and be a computer network administrator anywhere in the world."

Katerattanakul says anyone involved in computer networking knows about Cisco certification.

Cisco Systems Inc. is an American, multinational corporation specializing in consumer electronics, networking and communications technology and services. Its Cisco Networking Academy is a global education program that teaches students how to design, build, troubleshoot, and secure computer networks for increased access to career and economic opportunities.

Since 1997, the Cisco Networking Academy has grown from a small-scale program designed to help schools get the most out of their networking equipment to Cisco's largest corporate social responsibility program, with courses taught at more than 9,000 academies in 165 countries. More than 900,000 students develop information and communications technology skills through the program each year.

"We give students not only the knowledge about computer networking, but also show students how to use good analytical skills," Katerattanakul says. "It's not about memorizing. If a problem happens, we show them how to solve it. You have to have the analytical skills."

The test for Cisco certification is a daunting one and demonstrates a student's dedication to the field of information and communications technology. Students must attend the lab sessions on top of their normal classes. The sessions are tough, students say.

"WMU's Cisco Networking Academy classes rank among the hardest and most time-consuming and yet are the best classes I've taken at Western, which is why I've taken four of them," says Nikolette Huang Rivera, a senior majoring in electronic business design, who is taking the CCNA curriculum. She offers the following advice for those interested in the program: "Be prepared to study a lot and learn a ton of information, because graduating with a Cisco certification will open up a lot of opportunities and is worth all of the hard work."

Katerattanakul set up WMU's Cisco Networking Academy with the help of the Office of Information Technology, which donated Cisco switches and found a company to partner with for additional Cisco equipment. The company, Grand Rapids-based NETech Corp., provided Cisco routers.

The collaboration resulted in a 16-station Cisco information and communications networking laboratory in the lower level of Schneider Hall, home of the Haworth College of Business. The equipment was installed in summer 2010 and the academy opened its doors to students that fall.

The goal for students is to acquire CCNA certification. Students get together at least once a week to troubleshoot problems and prepare for the test.

"By including CCNA curriculum in our computer networking classes, our students learn computer networking concepts and then practice these concepts by using both real Cisco networking devices and Cisco simulation software," Katerattanakul says. "These hands-on experiences greatly benefit and help our students pass the CCNA exam and earn certification."

The certification is a definite plus on students' resumes, Katerattanakul says.

"For those companies focused on this type of technology, and especially Cisco partners, they want Cisco certification," he says. "They don't want to hire a student out of college and provide training. They want students who can already demonstrate the knowledge to do the work. The certification is the evidence students can provide to employers."