Technology Program Offers Opportunities for Students, Teachers

From: Public Affairs

Tiffany Spencer, Chesterfield, Va., attended CyberCity and experienced college life.

Most students at the end of their school year are focused on sunshine, the pool or the beach. However, 40 Virginia high-school students headed to the city, CyberCity that is, at James Madison University June 23–26.

Sponsored by JMU’s College of Business, CyberCity is designed to introduce ninth- and 10th-graders to potential careers in the field of computer information systems. The program targets students who may not consider college or a career in technology as a real possibility due to economic or family situations.

Teachers accompany students and attend separate workshops highlighting ways they can incorporate technology into their curriculum.

COB colleagues Thomas Dillon, Harry Reif and Daphyne Saunders Thomas created CyberCity in 2007. The program received one of four 2008 ABET President’s Awards for Diversity from the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology. JMU’s computer information systems and management science program is ABET accredited.

Student Experience
Tiffany Spencer, who just completed Falling Creek Middle School in Chesterfield County, found out about CyberCity from her guidance counselor, James Holmes.

Tiffany was the only eighth grade applicant from her middle school selected to attend Matoaca High School which has a focus on learning and teaching through technology.

Holmes said, “As Tiffany's counselor, I thought it would be good for her because she likes technology. The fact that your program is free gives students in underserved populations the opportunity to participate and be exposed, when they would not otherwise have a chance.”

While learning theoretical lessons about how to maintain the security of computer information systems, the students also work on projects such as creating websites and installing secure wireless networks.

Dr. Michel Mitri, professor of computer information systems, taught three sessions on animation programming. “The kids learned a lot and worked hard, but it was in a playful way. When work is play, kids get very engaged in the process,” said Mitri.

College Life
One of the goals of CyberCity is to provide students with a taste of college life with the hope that they will want to pursue a college degree. While they may not come into the experience knowing much about college, due to the organized nature of the schedule the students are quickly engaged and immersed into the life of a college student.

The high-school students are guided through their CyberCity experience by four JMU student-counselors.

Monyette Martin, JMU’s regional assistant director of admissions, said, “The counselors develop activities and icebreakers designed to meet the goal of transforming and shaping the minds of the students so that they will walk away from the CyberCity experience with their sights on attending college, whether it be a two-year or four-year college.”

CyberCity’s goals had the exact intended effect on Spencer. “I have always wanted to go to college but this opened my eyes to what college life is really like. I want to go to college, maybe even JMU,” said Spencer.

Teachers Learn Too
Teachers were engaged in concurrent sessions. This year's teacher classes included sessions on Web 2.0, iPod Touch, Second Life and gaming in the classroom.

Additional teacher sessions focused on exploring Inside your PC, Advanced PowerPoint, Animation Programming and Advanced Excel.

“CyberCity is unique in that not only do the students gain the exposure but the teachers as well. This approach works as a win-win because the teachers then have the same introduction to technology to take back into their schools while using the student participants as their ambassadors/soundboards,” said Martin.

Thanks to JMU
According to Martin, feedback from students, teachers and parents is very positive every year.

Spencer said she learned a lot about technology but also a lot about herself. “I learned that I am not as shy as I thought I was and I can do anything as long as I try.”

Spencer’s mother, Aleta Fetty agrees. “I was amazed how much she learned in just four days. I want to thank you all at JMU for having Tiffany and hopefully she can attend CyberCity next year to get even more experience.”