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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, June 20, 2002

Program feeds technology interest

By Jennifer Hiller
Advertiser Education Writer

Doris Tsang went into this with reservations. Not only was everyone else three to five years older than the Kapolei Middle School student, they were also taller.

"I was kind of intimidated," she said.

But five months of sacrificed Saturdays later, Tsang has earned a host of new friends along with some real-world experience in the technology industry.

As one of 24 students participating in the Millennium Workforce Training Initiative, Tsang helped create a Web-based, e-mail newsletter for a client this semester.

"I've got a lot more confidence and I've got a lot of friends now," said Tsang, 14, the youngest of the group of mostly high school juniors and seniors. "I look up to a lot of them because most of them were valedictorians in their classes."

A group of Department of Education students who excel in math and technology have spent their Saturdays at Computer Training Academy, a computer education and consulting company.

The mentoring program was designed for students who have moved beyond the public school curriculum and want to learn more about the technology industry. They work on a project as if they were hired for it and have to learn teamwork in the process.

Students and their DOE technology teachers arrive at the company by 9 a.m. and usually stay until 4 p.m. If they missed more than one day of the program, they were out.

"It's a chance to do what a lot of us really want to do with our lives," said Jacob Schrum, a 2002 Kalani High graduate who will go to Southwestern University in the fall and major in computer science. "You can't get this experience anywhere else."

The mentoring project is a partnership of the Hawai'i Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism and Computer Training Academy. DBEDT financed the course with a $15,000 grant, which helped pay the DOE teachers for their weekend work and provided some computer hardware to the public schools that participated.

In turn, Computer Training Academy opened its doors for free and had its experts teach the group new programming languages. The company gets to keep the project that students create — but said it would be glad to share it with the schools — and plans to use it for an interactive company newsletter.

The program started in 1997, but this is the first year DBEDT was involved.

"We need to stimulate and nurture kids who are interested in technology," said Jeff Bloom, founder of Computer Training Academy. "This industry is based on human capital. We'll never have a high-tech industry without growing the kids."

Instead of criticizing the education system, Bloom said businesses should offer their expertise. "Why can't we open the business sector to the education sector?" he asked. "The two are disconnected. We don't talk and work together."

The company previously helped found Hi Tech Quest, a partnership of mostly Honolulu technology businesses that provides advanced technology training and scholarships to students and teachers.

The first six to eight weeks of the Saturday Millennium Workforce program were spent teaching the teens in a classroom environment. The rest of the time the students were broken into teams and assigned specific tasks: development, testing, graphics or management.

Perrine Sarchet, 18, a recent graduate of Kalani High School who will attend the University of San Francisco in the fall, took two years of technology courses in high school, but said she learned more this semester through the Millennium Workforce Training Initiative.

"The classes in school aren't even an hour a day," Sarchet said. "Once you started learning, the bell would ring. This was much more intense."

Ryan Kusuda, technology teacher at Kalani High, said he hopes more students and teachers get involved in the project next year.

"Every year the projects get better and better," he said.

Reach Jennifer Hiller at jhiller@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8084.