BY SUSAN ERLER
GARY | High school senior Tiffany Johns typed commands on one laptop computer while, nearby, classmate Jolena Evans responded.
The Gary Area Career Center students were setting up a program for switching and routing telephone calls over a computer network as part of their second-year class at the career center.
Their knowledge of the sophisticated technology will give students in the course a competitive edge after high school, said Randy Becker, who teaches Cisco Systems technology at the career center.
Becker recently added the second year of learning to the course after receiving more than $100,000 worth of equipment from The Methodist Hospitals.
Methodist, with campuses in Gary and Merrillville, decided to donate older networking and phone system equipment to the career center when the hospital system acquired new technology last year, hospital officials said.
The need was apparent to Methodist Information Technology Director Shaw Collins after Becker gave a presentation about his course to the career center advisory board, upon which Collins holds a seat.
"I was amazed at the skill level of these high school students," Collins said.
Because the program lacked equipment at the time, students once had to wait to take turns on the few pieces of equipment.
The donated equipment gives students hands-on experience as opposed to virtual learning experiences common in other school settings, Becker said.
"My students work on top-notch equipment," Becker said. "They'll be ahead when they get to college or when they hit the business world."
Johns, of Gary, said her training on the equipment will be useful as a student at Davenport University in Grand Rapids, Mich., where she plans to obtain a degree in computer science.
Evans said she helps out when her family's computer system hits snags, and her training will come in handy as a law student after high school.