Education, December 2005
High-tech jobs are as varied as they are bountiful in the Baltimore metropolitan area. The term “high-tech” encompasses everything from computers to Web development and design, telecommunications, engineering and networking. High-tech education and training is available through several area colleges and training centers to help prepare students for jobs in the growing high-tech industry, including an array of programs at Anne Arundel Community College (AACC), where students can opt for one of many different career tracks – all with an intense hands-on approach.
AACC’s electronics engineering technology (EET) department offers several programs, including degree, certificate and letter of recognition options. Each one emphasizes hands-on training – all classes involve labs where students analyze different communication systems – to give students the skills necessary to become employable in electronic hardware.
Although AACC offers many tracks, one career in high demand is that of an electronic technician. Through the school’s associate of applied science degree in electronics, students can attain a degree that allows them to enter the workforce in two years or continue to Capitol College in Laurel, Md., for a bachelor’s degree in electronics technology.
One of the advantages of the associate degree is that students take basic electronic courses and then take three technical elective classes in the area that interest them most. One of these classes is “Electronic Communications Systems,” taught by Frank Lanzer, who is also a registered professional engineer. “Basically, electronic communications studies how we communicate by transmitting and receiving information through AM, FM and digital means. Where telecommunications primarily focuses on networking, electronic communications systems focuses on the hardware that allows you to transmit and receive information,” says Lanzer, who has taught at AACC for four years. Lanzer’s class involves three hours of lecture each week, in addition to a three-hour lab. “It’s a four-credit course that involves a lot of work,” he says.
What’s interesting, Lanzer says, about the program is that students are preparing for a litany of different career paths. For example, besides the popular electronics technician path, students who obtain the electronics associate degree may become field service technicians, computer service technicians or instrumentation and control technicians. A certificate program in electronics also is available where students complete six courses and can enter the workforce in two semesters. Professionals already employed in the field also utilize the certificate program to upgrade skill sets. “The certificate track is great because the students are taking the class because they are really interested in it,” Lanzer says. “They all come from different backgrounds – one student teaches high school in Severn, one is attaining every certificate program we offer, while another is already employed in the field. They are all here for a reason.”
Lanzer’s class also involves students aiming toward an associate degree in telecommunications, as his course is a requirement of this degree. However, this track is not to be confused with telecommunications programs at some liberal arts schools, which focus on writing, production and on-air opportunities. Instead AACC’s program – a telecommunications certificate is also offered – focuses more on the technical side – the electronics and computer systems that specifically cater to the telecommunications industry. Brooke Clayton, who is approaching graduation with a telecommunications degree, says that he has always been interested in electronics. “I grew up with a Commodore 64 computer and have been attracted to electronics since high school,” he says. “The education I’ve received at AACC has covered a lot of different systems, such as fiber optics, radio and telephone systems.”
Clayton says that the hands-on aspect to the program was a draw for him. “Most employers want hands-on experience in the field, so the lab work at AACC has provided me with that experience,” he says. “With the many jobs available in Maryland, Northern Virginia and Hunt Valley – the Silicon Valley of the East Coast – I’m confident that I’ll find a job.”
Lanzer says that he will constantly alter the class around what is happening now in the field. “Electronics is an ever-changing field, and I learn a lot from those students who have hands-on experience in the industry. They keep me up-to-date on what’s happening, and they are able to share their first-hand knowledge with other students in the class, too.” Lanzer points to one student in his class who is in the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, 3rd class petty officer Chad Jones. Originally from Tennessee, Jones was transferred to Curtis Bay for three years. “I graduated from the University of Alabama, so I already have a bachelor’s degree. However, the Coast Guard urges everyone to pursue further education. AACC’s proximity to the base and the electronics communications course offered encouraged me to take classes,” says Jones, who is an electronics technician with the Coast Guard. “Basically, I work on navigation equipment that helps ships get safely into harbors,” he says. Jones says that he plans on completing a certificate program at AACC, which will give him further skills. “You must have an interest in electronics to get into this field; it’s not something you just fall into,” he adds.
“Chad brings real-life Coast Guard experience to the class, which is wonderful,” says Lanzer, a retired Marine. “I encourage students to help shape the curriculum, and those who are working in the field bring a lot of credibility to the course.” Lanzer adds that he encourages some students to obtain an FCC radio operator’s license to be able to operate radio equipment on boats. “We are surrounded by water and boats in this area, which presents a lot of job opportunities.”
Those looking for a less-technical route in the field may consider the bachelor of arts in business technology administration program at University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC), which is designed for students looking for an overview of office information systems. The B.A. program also requires students to complete another major, minor or certificate program in a field of the student’s interest. “Having the students pair another discipline with the B.A. program opens up a wide range of job opportunities,” says Andrew Sears, chair of the department of information services at UMBC. Sears says that while a bachelor’s of science degree would focus solely on information technology, the B.A. degree involves many different skills. “For example, a graduate may land a job in technical support in a finance department of a company because he or she paired the B.A. degree with a finance concentration. A Web development or network administration certificate paired with the B.A. degree also gives technical and management experience” says Sears.
One required course of the B.A. program is “Business Communications Systems,” a survey class of business data communications. “This course is a good overview of the issues and technology involved for computer networks,” Sears says. “It allows the students to speak the same language and communicate effectively with the those co-workers with a more technical background.”
For more information on AACC’s programs, go to www.aacc.edu/engineering/EGR.cfm; for UMBC’s, visit www.is.umbc.edu.