The Intrinsic Value of Certification
Jeanne McConnell, who holds the Project Management Professional (PMP) and CompTIA Project+ certifications, is an adjunct professor at Katharine Gibbs School in New York, N.Y. The Katharine Gibbs School is an open-enrollment college that offers certificates and associate’s degrees. McConnell prefers instructing students at the Gibbs School rather than at a large university, where she began her career, because she feels she can make a more profound difference in the lives of her students.
McConnell explained that many of the program’s students are in their 20s, raising families and working full-time jobs. A segment of students are behind in reading and math skills when they enter college. “An open-enrollment school means we have students who never thought they’d have a chance to go to college, but now can,” McConnell said. “We have many minority students who are the first members of their families to go to college. The graduation ceremony is an amazing experience—families come out in full force to show their support and pride.”
Two years ago, McConnell helped to institute a project management course in the Computer Network Operations associate’s degree program at the Gibbs School. The program emphasizes the basics of project management, teamwork, putting technology into a business context, problem-solving and delivering results.
“Students enroll in the Computer Network Operations program thinking that technical skills alone are the keys to great jobs,” McConnell said. “We burst their bubble a little in the project management course by showing them that technical skills alone are not enough. To be successful, they will have to think like a business person, perform as a member of a team and learn to work with people who may not necessarily be technicians.”
About a year ago, McConnell began exploring project management certifications for students in the class and selected CompTIA Project+. McConnell’s focus on certification is not unusual at the school. The program’s director and instructors encourage their students to earn foundational certifications. “Graduates will be going up against scores of people for entry-level jobs, some of whom have bachelor’s degrees,” McConnell said. “Certification differentiates the candidates and makes them competitive.”
While Katharine Gibbs School students are not required to earn certification as part of a degree or certificate program, the instructors, with the full support of the school, do everything possible to help prepare and encourage students to take that extra step. Extracurricular exam-preparation workshops are held, and the school reimburses the cost of every successfully completed exam, providing a powerful incentive.
“Passing a certification exam provides a wonderful boost to a student’s self-esteem and confidence,” McConnell said. “Many of these students are exceptionally smart, but they have not had many opportunities in their lives. Surmounting the obstacles to achieve a certification proves to them that they can compete—that they have what it takes to be a success.”
Through a nonprofit organization, a number of Katharine Gibbs School’s Computer Network Operations students will begin to teach basic computer skills and will modernize an outdated computer lab for tenants in a hotel that has been converted into supportive housing. These Katharine Gibbs School mentors will encourage the adults who live in the housing to demonstrate computer competency through certification. The certification process can instill self-confidence and assist learners in the attainment of that all-important new job. The mentoring program also will give these student teachers the chance to give back something unique to the community.
Many Certification Magazine readers grew up in middle-class neighborhoods with good schools and peers who set a positive example. Even with this background, I’ll wager that most of you still find the certification process challenging. Imagine what it’s like, then, for many of the Katharine Gibbs School students. Picture the challenging road to certification that they are successfully traveling with the support of teachers like Jeanne McConnell and a caring educational institution like Katharine Gibbs School.
In the everyday practice of the IT profession, it can be easy to forget the life-changing quality of earning a certification. Sometimes it requires a walk in another person’s shoes to remind us of certification’s intrinsic value.
John A. Venator is president and CEO of CompTIA, the largest global IT industry association, with more than 19,000 members in 89 countries. John can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.