Story and photos by JUDITH KELLIHER
At age 60, Marco Cazarin is interested in learning about computers from the inside out.
Cazarin, who is studying to take the HiSET high school equivalency exam, hopes to get educated about computers so that he can find a job in the field of information technology.
"I wanted to learn how computers work on the inside and how to use them better. There's a lot of stuff in the world that use computers, and I want to know more," Cazarin said. "It's not like old times using paper and a pen."
While pursuing the HiSET, Cazarin decided to take advantage of a free seminar series offered by Holyoke Community College that is introducing adult learners to the information technology world. He heard about the seminars in classes he takes at HCC's Picknelly Adult and Family Education Center (PAFEC) in downtown Holyoke. Billed as "Hot Jobs in Information Technology," the four-week seminar series, which concludes Aug. 4, focuses on computer networking, programming, web design, computer repair, careers in IT, and data security.
Cazarin was one of 14 adult learners who enrolled in the seminar series, which was held in the Gill Technology Center on the first floor of PAFEC. The series was funded by a min-grant from the HCC Foundation.
Sarah Schmidt, director of PAFEC and the Gill Technology Center, said the seminar series targets a number of needs, including efforts to increase diversity in the workforce of technology companies, and fill projected openings in STEM (Science, technology, engineering and math) jobs. According to the Massachusetts Labor and Workforce Development website, about 29,000 technology jobs will be created by 2022.
At the PAFEC program, more than 80 percent of the students attending classes identify as Hispanic.
"I appreciate that our students are very diverse in a lot of ways," she said. "Technology in particular is an ever-growing and changing field and there are a lot of opportunities, often for good paying jobs. I wanted to create a pathway for our adult students into those careers."
That pathway was appealing to Springfield resident Jacqueline Santana, 48, who attended at least eight classes as part of the seminar series. As a deaf person, Santana wanted to explore future employment options. Interpreters assisted her with following the instructors.
"I am looking at my future," she said. "You never know what is going to happen. I know there are other deaf people in this field, and I am not sure what they do for their particular jobs. I would like to learn because there may be something out there for me to do."
Casey Storozuk, HCC professor of computer information security, led a class on networking in which he talked about the purpose of a wireless router; how computers, other devices and cables fit together to form the physical network; and the function of local area networks and their hardware.
Earlier classes offered students hands-on experience, such as building an artificial intelligence robot. Joseph Bacal, a web developer with Holyoke Codes, taught introduction to coding concepts and the robot project. Students learned to create a robot using a visual programming language from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Acknowledging that IT jobs are mostly held by white males, Storozuk said he is looking to change that by exposing persons of color to knowledge that will let them explore their potential in technology.
"My overall objective in this whole presentation series is to give a taste of different job functions in the IT world," he said, "to hopefully get them involved in wanting to go to school, whether it's this or another curriculum. As long as they want to further their education."
"That is something we want to foster, to create a space for these students to be well trained to enter these fields," she said. "It's not going to happen in a four-week seminar. The seminars are designed to let them know about some careers within technology. We hope to inspire them to enter these education and career pathways."
PHOTOS: (Left) Jacqueline Santana of Springfield learns about computer technology in a Hot Jobs class at PAFEC. (Right) HCC professor Casey Storozuk leads a class on information technology.