The Kent State University at Ashtabula (KSUA) Student Chapter of CompTIA AITP is one of the most productive, highly honored and longest-lived organizations on its Ohio campus. Chartered in 1993, KSUA AITP has a history of providing technology students exceptional opportunities and resources to develop and advance their academic and professional careers. That history, combined with the group’s community involvement and vision for the future has earned them the title of AITP Outstanding Student Chapter.
We caught up with KSUA’s CompTIA AITP chapter faculty advisor, Carolyn Carvalho, associate lecturer, Information Technology, to find out how the group works together to support each other during their university experience and how they are preparing for life after graduation.
Congratulations! You must be very proud of this group. Tell us a little bit about your role as faculty advisor.
Carolyn Carvolho: I have been the KSUA AITP chapter advisor for 12 years. I primarily serve as a project manager. I point the students in the right direction and act as a liaison between the students and the university. But I also act as a mentor. Since this is a student group, our membership is always changing as students graduate and new members join. I take on the role of teaching the new members how our chapter works and what they can do.
What is the primary purpose of the KSUA AITP chapter?
CC: The primary purpose of our chapter is really two-fold. First is education. The students receive a lot of education, support and resources through CompTIA and the events we hold. The second part is preparation. What we do in this group really gets the students to start thinking about how they can ready themselves for the next step—a career.
What does your student chapter look like?
CC: This is a diverse student organization with members of all ages, backgrounds and from all walks of life. Members include high-school and non-traditional students—even retired senior citizens. There’s a mix of active and retired military, foreign and U.S. citizens, English and non-English speaking members. Students are a mix of different ethnicities, cultures, genders, religions and occupations who all come together with a common goal and passion: bettering ourselves through a well-rounded educational experience, a love of learning everything IT, and spreading that knowledge, love and joy while helping our community.
KSUA is a fairly small campus in a community of roughly 18,000 people. Does this pose a challenge?
CC: We are a small campus, and I think that camaraderie is what makes us special. We will go to large events where there are huge contingents that come from larger schools. But there’s a sense of pride in knowing that we can hold our own against giant universities. We also have a close partnership with our parent chapter, [CompTIA AITP] Northeast Ohio. Through this partnership our students build a network of contacts, mentors and professionals in the field. Each month, they enthusiastically plan and attend education events.
Tell us about some of the events that the students plan and participate in.
CC: We hold a bunch of events and workshops on topics like web design and development. Recently, we did an IT healthcare tour that allowed the students to learn about the tech behind everything in that field. The students also host a big gaming party every semester – which is fun and helps build a great bond. But perhaps the most anticipated event each year is the Collegiate Conference where students travel to a different city each year to compete in IT competitions, sit for certification exams and attend workshops and a career fair.
The KSUA CompTIA AITP chapter has been very decorated at this conference. Tell us about some of the accolades your members have been awarded.
CC: Nearly every year students proudly bring home their certifications, prize money, trophies, ribbons and plaques by winning top honors in IT contests ranging from programming, networking, productivity applications, PC Troubleshooting, research projects and graphic design. Competing successfully against the largest universities in the country is a source of pride and validation of their hard work in the academic arena to prepare for these events.
You’ve stated that the students place a high importance on the concept of service. How does the chapter interact with your community?
CC: We are located in Ashtabula County, where many people live in poverty, lack sufficient economic resources and need help. Each year, KSUA AITP holds activities that seek to create and develop positive connections between students and our community. We participate in several food drives and “Adopt-a- Family” events throughout the year. We were also asked by a large local manufacturing company to provide monthly training sessions on Microsoft Windows and Office applications. Our chapter was awarded the esteemed Community Impact Award because of our involvement.
How do you keep member engagement so high?
CC: How we go about recruiting new members is changing. The advent of 100% online available degrees means that many students don’t ever set foot on campus. Another big change is that more students are working full time as they earn their degrees. We’re having to re-think new ways to get the word out. While the size of the group fluctuates from year to year, there is always a core group of leaders that keep everything together, motivate and train the next generation of CompTIA AITP members. Each semester more students see the benefits that CompTIA provides and are eager to join the group and activities.
What changes have you seen in your 12-year tenure as faculty advisor?
CC: One area of growth I’ve noted is that more non-tech related students are even joining the group! We have techies from many different fields as members and they bring with them a whole new outlook, skill sets and love of learning to the group. We’ve had English, accounting, business, office tech, and criminal justice majors joining because they realize everyone utilizes and needs IT in their academic and professional careers.
In what other ways do you see student benefiting from their involvement in CompTIA AITP?
I’ve witnessed so many shy, uncertain students grow and blossom through their involvement and participation in the chapter. By working together, students learn the valuable soft skills that textbooks cannot teach—skills like collaboration and team work; leadership; verbal written and communication skills; determination; motivation; service; time and project management are vital for students to master before graduating and interviewing. Many employers want these students because of these critical social and soft skills. They want qualified candidates with good foundational tech skills, yes, but they love our students because they know these are the ones that go above and beyond and not only have the tech smarts, but the ability to communicate.
Congratulations again to KSUA's CompTIA AITP Student Chapter!