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Murray State University, partners collaborate for second annual Techmania event on Hickory campus of WK&T

“This is our second Techmania, an event we plan to continue each year for the foreseeable future. Our goal for the event overall is to expose students to careers in technology,” said Michael Ramage, director of telecommunication systems management for Murray State University. He made his comments recently at the end of a day filled with technology and learning for high school and even some middle school students throughout the region on the Hickory campus of West Kentucky & Tennessee Telecommunications Cooperative. 

“Last year’s event involved networking, configuring the computers and routers to connect them to a virtual server,” Ramage explained. “We didn’t have as much programming as we really wanted. So, this year, we added a web development standpoint. The teams not only had to connect to a virtual server, but they also had to set up a web server and create a web page. I know the students really liked that we added those elements to it.” 

“We had a competition to see who could get the farthest in computer programming,” said Graves County Middle School seventh-grader Karson Elliott. “It was pretty fun. I enjoyed it. I learned how to connect a router to a computer.” 

“There are different types of events like this,” Ramage explained. “A couple of years ago, we created the Technology Council of Western Kentucky. It is a nonprofit organization, a partnership of education and technology professionals. Its sole purpose is to improve those support mechanisms for tech businesses coming to western Kentucky or those that already are here. One of the things we talked about was: how do we expose western Kentucky students to tech careers? We were brainstorming and this just came together. I’m very happy with how this year went. We improved from last year.” 

“From my point of view, most of this seemed to be on the computer, rather than hardware and I’m more of a hardware person,” said GCMS eighth-grader Stephen Rogers, “but I did learn how to code on a computer, to set up HTML web sites, and that sort of thing. Talking to high school students, it seemed like I got some wisdom from them. They were really nice people and helped me when I needed it. We ended up having a lot in common, so it was just like old friends all of a sudden. The projects were a bit tough, but once you got the rhythm going, it was easy to do.”

“We had some hardware problems last year, but students would come up to us and say it was so much fun,” said Ramage. “The feedback was so positive. The only real suggestion we had was to add programming to the plan. Last year, we had about 125 students. This year we had 180; it’s growing. We added more schools. There were a few middle school kids here this year, more than last year. We thought about having a middle school day, but we’ve learned that a lot of these middle school students know as much as the high school students. It’s interesting to see how smart the middle school students are and how technically minded they already are.” 

“We learned a lot about new trends in computer programming for the future that could be really good jobs for us,” said GCMS eighth-grader Brady Sasseen. “At the beginning of this, I was really sad because I didn’t get to be with my friends from the same school. But, as the day went on, I realized working with different people from different schools that I could make new friends with them also.”

AT&T provided financial sponsorship and the regional GEAR UP (Gaining Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs) grant through the West Kentucky Educational Cooperative helped financially as well. WK&T allowed the group to use three buildings and  the group used nearly all the space in all three. CFSB (Community Financial Services Bank) of western Kentucky, Smartpath Technologies of Calvert City, Kalleo Technologies of Paducah, System Solutions of Paducah, CSI (Computer Services, Inc.) of Paducah, and others also contributed.

“All of that speaks to the importance of today and the importance of our regional collaboration,” Ramage concluded. Overall, I was thrilled with the event. We had more than 40 mentors; that’s fantastic. They came from three different groups: college students, college faculty, and industry professionals. Actually, we had more industry professionals than the other two categories combined. That is a good thing. What it shows me is that there really is a need. We need workers. So many areas of our economy are shrinking in western Kentucky. Tech jobs are needed in this area and more are coming. With the growing need, if we don’t do something to promote these jobs now, we really will have a shortage.”

(photo caption 1)
The second annual Techmania event welcomed some 180 students from throughout western Kentucky recently to the Hickory campus of WK&T (West Kentucky and Tennessee Telecommunications Cooperative). Michael Ramage, director of telecommunication systems management for Murray State University, is a primary organizer and is shown speaking to the entire group. “Our goal for the event overall is to expose students to careers in technology,” he said. Students from different schools form groups tasked with various computer, programming, hardware, and networking projects. The day helps them learn, meet like-minded students from other schools, and potentially discover a career option or two. 

(photo caption 2)
The Graves County School District sent high school students to the second annual Techmania event held on the Hickory campus of WK&T (West Kentucky and Tennessee Telecommunications Cooperative). Along with a few other districts, Graves County also sent middle school students. The Graves County group posed for a photo. 

(photos by Paul Schaumburg, Graves County Schools)

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