Fast-thinking students solve businesses' IT woes

St. Francis High School team heads to national contest

May 29, 2008

They excelled in their high school Advanced Placement Cisco Networking course and they scored second in the state for their work on a network design test, presented before a panel of information technology professionals.

Now, St. Francis High School Future Business Leaders of America teammates Ray Moths, Tony Corso and Thomas Fera are packing their bags for a trip to Atlanta for the national competition June 25 to 29.

The high school has had an FBLA team for the past three years, but this is the first year the group is being led by business education teacher Dan Schramka. This also marks the first year Ray, Tony and Thomas are in the group and the first school year that the group is competing in network design. Their goal is to create a computer network for a business that will run successfully.

"We are literally put in front of guys who we hope to be someday in the business world," Thomas said. "I think it's a really great experience."

About 20 minutes before they are scheduled to give their presentation before a group of IT professionals, the students are given a packet, containing a case study. Then the group must analyze the case and implement a business strategy to repair the technology, which also entails drawing a wiring diagram, Thomas explained.

To solve the case in a short amount of time, each teammate solves a specific aspect of the problem. In the state competition, Ray worked on new computer and hardware installations, Tony focused on user training and infrastructure upgrades, and Thomas oversaw security and server implementation.

Competitors are judged on their background, how they approach and solve the case study, and their presentation. Effectively communicating and abiding by the "strict dress code" are huge components of the score, Schramka said.

"So it's good, it really gives them some nice exposure to the real business world," he said. "That's why I think a lot of kids take advantage of this competition."

Because the case study is distributed to the group minutes before a set presentation, practicing for the event mostly consists of building public speaking skills, Thomas said. Mastering the subject beforehand is crucial in the competitions.

"There's always new stuff to learn because IT is something that changes from year to year," he said. "You always have to keep up with the current trends."

Ray and Tony are juniors and plan to participate again next year, but they will have to choose a new category, Tony said.

Thomas is a senior and will attend Marquette University this fall in pursuit of a business degree.

The FBLA program is for high school students and prepares them for Phi Beta Lambda, the college program.

Ray, Tony and Thomas also are a step closer to earning their Cisco Certified Networking Associate certification. Because they have already taken the AP course, all the team members need to become certified is to take one more course at a postsecondary school and to take the CCNA test.

"That's a professional certification," Tony said. "That's quite valued in the IT world."

FBLA-PBL has about 215,000 high school members and 11,000 postsecondary-school members, according to the FBLA-PBL Web site.

Chantel Balzell can be reached at (262) 446-6602.

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