Meet six Virginia tech students who pulled together to get certified

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This feature first appeared in the Fall 2018 issue of Certification Magazine. Click here to get your own print or digital copy.

Six students of Virginia high school tech teacher Kari Miller worked together to earn CompTIA's A+ credential.Complaints about youthful behavior were being made long before Romulus and Remus — the mythical founder of Rome and that guy’s twin brother — disagreed about the location of their clubhouse, and things haven’t changed since. One of the more notable rants occurred in 1843, in Great Britain’s House of Commons, when Anthony Ashley Cooper, the 7th Earl of Shaftesbury, railed about the decline in morals among the young.

In Shaftesbury’s view, the boys of the empire had become “a fearful multitude of untutored savages”. Being an equal opportunity critic, the Earl made sure to include the ladies:

“[Girls who] drive coal-carts, ride astride upon horses, drink, swear, fight, smoke, whistle, and care for nobody … the morals of children are tenfold worse than formerly.”

Not surprisingly, Shaftesbury put most of the blame for such society-corrupting behavior on those of high-school age: “There is most vice and levity and mischief in the class who are between 16 and 19. You see more lads between 17 and 19 with dogs at their heels and other evidences of dissolute habits.”

Quite often, old-fashioned fuddy-duddies, who tend to embrace change more slowly — myself included, at times — resent youngsters’ ideas of progress. We frequently shake our heads in condescension while simultaneously muttering about how “kids used to do things properly” and wondering just what the world is coming to.

Fortunately, the next generation of information technology (IT) professionals is coming along just fine. The best aspect of writing about young people in IT, actually, is seeing how iconoclastic almost all of them are. They bring a fresh outlook and excitement to the field and seemingly spend their days entertaining newfangled notions of how to make everything in IT better.

Such keen learners are almost always the product of curiosity, environment, and, perhaps most importantly, dedicated and knowledgeable instructors who have piqued their interest, answered their questions, opened their eyes to new possibilities, and instilled in them the confidence to accomplish more than they ever believed possible. That is exactly what Kari Miller of Chesapeake Career Center has done with six remarkable students.

A unique group with varied backgrounds and interests ranging from martial arts to music, the savvy sixsome committed themselves to achieving A+ certification during the 2017-2018 school year. Along the way, they forged friendships, tested their limits, and committed themselves to long hours of rigorous study. They also learned important life lessons about adapting to new challenges while embracing the value of dedication, sacrifice, focus, and especially teamwork.

Five out of six earned CompTIA A+ certification within the school year, and the sixth will complete it this month. A number also earned various TestOut Pro certs and participated in the national SkillsUSA competition. They are an extremely mature cadre of 17- and 18-years-olds who, through their actions and accomplishments, reflect well on their instructor and school.

While their futures are still in flux — Whose future isn’t, at such a young age? — each is determined to live an abundant life of usefulness and accomplishment that contributes to the improvement of IT and, by extension, the world.

I had the delightful opportunity to speak with each of them, and I can happily conclude that there are no “dogs at their heels and other evidences of dissolute habits” among this group. They’re young, sharp, focused, and solid examples of the today’s rising generation of IT pros. What follows is a mini-profile of each, in their own words.

Six students of Virginia high school tech teacher Kari Miller worked together to earn CompTIA's A+ credential.Gabe Horne

Certifications: “Working on CompTIA A+. I missed passing the 902 Exam with my classmates. It was tough, but there is an upside. In the end it has made me more mature. I learned a lot of important things like managing my time during the exam.”

Lessons Learned: “I’ve matured as a person and will be sitting for the 902 Exam in October. I have no concerns this time, because I’ve been studying all summer for it. I’ve developed my test-taking time skills by working with Ms. Miller and my dad all summer long. My dad is the head web developer for the Coast Guard Exchange here in Chesapeake. I’m ready.”

SkillsUSA: “I was a state finalist last year, competing in Extemporaneous Writing. Participants were given a random topic and one hour to write two pages about it. I took 1st at the district level, and 3rd at state.”

Hobbies: “Studying foreign languages. I aspire to be a hyper-polyglot. Nelson Mandela’s words about language really touch me. He said, ‘If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.’ Besides English, I’m conversationally fluent in Russian, Afrikaans, and Dutch, and I can read and write Korean. I love EDM (electronic music) in all shapes and sizes and like to produce it and DJ when I can.”

What Fictional Character Would I Be: “I’m not sure. There’s not a lot of practicality in thinking about things that will never happen.”

Something Few Know About Me: “I used to be a competitive Osu!mania player for a South Korean team, FaL3C. That stands for family, life, creativity, and community. Osu!mania is a rhythm game.”

Support from Parents and Friends: “Lots of time in class with my classmates and Ms. Miller, and many late nights with my dad.”

Being Part of the Miller 6: “My classmates are some of my closest friends, so it was easy for us to support one another. Being able to have so many different cultures around me was great. Tristan and I are especially close. Being with the others was like having a sort of community in class, something I never had in school before.”

Toughest Challenge of Earning Certs: “Time management. Having to study that extra hour every night is so much easier said than done. Especially making sure it’s a productive hour.”

Best Thing About Earning a Cert: “Usability of the knowledge outside of school. Anyone who spends time using a computer can benefit from the skills and knowledge you pick up if things go south with your hardware. I’ve saved a lot of time and money building my own PCs because I knew exactly what to do.”

Best Moment Earning Certs: “The relief after passing the 901 Exam and the sense of community that we did it together. Seeing us combine efforts to be much bigger than we imagined was really something. I never thought the public school system could provide something like that for us. I completely underestimated Chesapeake.”

Future Plans: “Network+, a bachelor’s degree in computer science, and a CCNA, because Cisco is the biggest name in networking, especially overseas. I’ll also secure a networking job in the Netherlands, a good place to start my career and have my hobbies. An idol of mine, Martin van Sonderen, is from there. I’ve met him in person and got to speak Dutch with him.”

Most Important Ms. Miller Lesson: “Social skills and how to communicate professionally in the work place by articulating my thoughts without sounding like a teenager. That used to be my biggest weakness.”

Advice to Other Students: “When studying for a cert, avoid distractions like the plague.”

Six students of Virginia high school tech teacher Kari Miller worked together to earn CompTIA's A+ credential.Jason Delzer

Certifications: CompTIA A+

SkillsUSA: “I competed in IT Systems Repair. I took 1st in district, and 3rd in state. Missed nationals because I forgot to include some required information on my résumé. Oh well, there is always next year.”

Extracurricular: “Recreational camping. I’m a member of the Boy Scouts of America and have just completed my Eagle Scout project — installing flooring and painting walls at a local church — and will receive my Eagle award in the next few weeks. Being a Scout has helped me learn a vast array of skills and taught me a lot of important lessons.”

Hobbies: “Working on computers, especially older models like the Dell Optiplex 2600. If I can figure out how older computers work, then I’ll be better able to understand how new ones are designed and work.”

Favorite Fictional Character: “Kevin Flynn from Tron. I would love to see the inner workings of a computer based on the virtual world of the Tron Universe.”

Craziest Thing He’s Ever Done: “Spending four hours straight at SkillsUSA competing against older students who outranked me by, at a minimum, the Network+, and many different Cisco certifications. I walked in and there were 15 other guys talking about all the certs they have, and all I’ve got is my A+. I found it quite fun. It helped show me the areas I needed to work harder on.”

Why I Became Interested in Certs: “My dad was big into computers and I had a scoutmaster who was involved in tech education. I noticed how many IT techs have the A+ cert, at a minimum, and really started looking into it in the 6th grade.”

Support from Parents and Friends: “Everyone helped quiz me on the various domains and would surprise me with random questions anytime. I would like to personally thank William Reynolds and Daniel Barlow for volunteering to help teach the class. Former students of Ms. Miller, they ran a computer shop and taught us networking and security basics.”

What My Parents Think About Studying IT: “They said, ‘It’s a Delzer thing.’ Both my parents were very supportive.”

Being Part of the Miller 6: “Working with friends and teammates was great, especially when we all got together, sat down, and started talking about all topics we could possibly study for. When Reynolds and Barlow stared talking about hard drives and vectors, I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, so that’s what hard drives do.’ ”

Toughest Challenge of Earning Certs: “Mastering the vast amount of detailed knowledge required for the cert and handling anxiety on the day of the exams. We all had anxiety on exam day. I would avoid studying the night before an exam — cramming never works — and just keep doing what I had done all along.”

Best Moment Earning Certs: “The feeling of accomplishment. Then start preparing for the next cert exam.”

Future Plans: “The Entire CompTIA Cybersecurity Pathway, including the new PenTest+. It mixes every sector of IT nicely. After graduation, I’ll attend Tidewater Community College and receive a transferable Associate’s Degree in Computer Science with a Cybersecurity Certificate, then complete a bachelor’s in cybersecurity at Old Dominion University and work for the government in cybersecurity.”

Most Important Ms. Miller Lesson: “Always step back and look at a situation from several perspectives. It helps you understand the big picture.”

Advice to Other Students: “Don’t get discouraged. Continue to study hard, and the people around you will see what you’re doing and support you.”

Six students of Virginia high school tech teacher Kari Miller worked together to earn CompTIA's A+ credential.Juan Alexander II

Certifications: CompTIA A+, TestOut PC Pro

Preferred Study Methods: “Nothing unusual, just crammed as much info as I could into the short time I had: three-plus hours a day in class and more outside. I did use as many resources as I could find, websites, practice exams, and study guides. Got a lot of info off of TestOut. Professor Messer’s another great place for info.”

Extracurricular Activities: “I enjoy working out, lifting weights, and cardio. I like to stay in shape because I play point guard on a travelling team, The 757 Mayors. We play local tournaments. I’m also a computer technician with IntellecTechs in Virginia Beach. It’s right up my alley; I’d do this job even if I wasn’t getting paid. Don’t tell my boss that.”

Craziest Thing He’s Ever Done: “I crashed my mother’s car when I was four years old. She ran inside to get my sister from babysitting. I had seen other people drive and figured, ‘Why not?’ ”

Why I Became Interested in Certs: “Because certs say you are qualified to do something. Anyone can claim they can do something, but a cert is proof that you are qualified by an outside organization.”

Support from Parents and Friends: “I had lots of support from my friends and all of my family. I had a lot of doubts and thought how crazy earning A+ would be to do in three months. My parents really helped me stay focused, always reminding me of it by saying, ‘You can do this.’ They gave me lots of motivation and let me do my thing.”

Being Part of the Miller 6: “There were six of us, out of 19 students, who chose to advance and had the mindset to do it. I felt like I needed to be a part of this, and I was sure going to do my part to help out. It was a team effort and we all worked together.”

Toughest Challenge of Earning Certs: “Memorizing all of the port numbers. It was so tough.”

Best Thing About Being Certified: “The fact that I’m automatically set apart from everyone else who doesn’t have an A+ certification.”

Best Moment Earning Certs: “During orientation in my sophomore year, hearing what class was about and opening the textbook. It showed a Windows 8.1 operating Screen and explained about setting up Windows. The only thing going through my head was, ‘Wow! This is right up my alley.’ I knew I was in the right place. And then, of course, passing both exams.”

Future Plans: “This year I’ll earn the Network+ and Security+ certs. College will be the next step, and whatever certs are required for my career.”

Favorite Music Lyric: “By J. Cole: ‘I say my prayers ’cause this life ain’t fair.’ I’m pretty religious and this helps me remember that not everything is going to go my way. I just pray to God to keep me safe and prospering.”

Most Important Ms. Miller Lesson: “She was always telling us to solve problems our own way and not just wait for her to show us her way. Other teachers have told me not to move ahead of the class. Ms. Miller taught me that acceleration isn’t a bad thing. It’s okay to do something faster than outlined. I can learn at my own rate and I learn quick — I did my 902 in three months.”

Six students of Virginia high school tech teacher Kari Miller worked together to earn CompTIA's A+ credential.Kiersten Cornatzer

Certifications: CompTIA A+, TestOut PC Pro

SkillsUSA: “I competed in job skills demonstration, showing how to install and uninstall hard drives, the different things they could do, and various other storage devices. I was terrified and unsure of myself but took 1st place at the district level. At the state level I placed 2nd. It was so rewarding.”

Hobbies: “I love reading, but I’m so busy now that I don’t do it as much as I like. I enjoy the beach and listening to music. I grew up listening to Country, but now I’m all-around: Pop, Rap, Heavy Metal, all kinds. I’ve recently started kickboxing. It’s an intense workout, and I’m having a great time. I love it.”

Favorite Fictional Character: “Penelope Garcia from the show Criminal Minds. She is the main reason I got interested in IT; my family loves that show. She’s funny, strong and amazing with computers. I want to do what she does, help people while doing what I love.”

School Support: “Chesapeake’s administration and staff were very supportive of our efforts to move ahead of our regular class and to earn our A+ certs. Dr. Windham was always interested in what we were doing, and always proud of us for trying to do more. She would say, ‘Who are they to try and stop you from bettering your education? You are here to go farther!’ They really encouraged and helped us.”

Toughest Challenge of Earning Certs: “The stress of trying to prepare for the 902 Exam in just two months. I had to take the exam twice to pass, but I did it.”

Best Moment Earning Certs: “That feeling when you see you passed. All I could do was smile and try not to cry because I was so happy.”

Thoughts on Certification: “Certs are essential in IT. I also feel that hands-on experience is just as important. If you can get both, even better.”

Future Plans: “Attend George Mason University and enroll in their cybersecurity program. My dream is then to work for Homeland Security or the FBI. I’m very interested in cybersecurity. Realizing it is a male-dominated field makes me want to prove to myself that I can succeed. Just like Penelope.”

Most Important Ms. Miller Lesson: “Ms. Miller is a supportive teacher. I also see her as a friend who cares about me and my future. She helped me learn that I was capable of so much more, to not settle for less, and to keep reaching for bigger and greater things. I worked in a local pizza joint and while I enjoyed it, I always said that I was going to get out of that pizza joint. IT has helped me do it.”

Advice to Other Students: “In IT, try something hands-on every chance you get. You can memorize information all you want, but if you can’t implement it in the real world, it’s useless.”

Six students of Virginia high school tech teacher Kari Miller worked together to earn CompTIA's A+ credential.Dedra “Tristan” Olds

Certifications: CompTIA A+ Extracurricular Activities: “I am a former high school wrestler, a soccer player, and a current Applebee’s employee. I work 20-to-30 hours per week. It gives me something extra to do besides school and sitting around the house. I deal with a lot of people who have graduated years ago and are now well-established adults. I learn a lot because I’m exposed to real-life interactions with these people.”

Hobbies: “I’m pretty good at the guitar. The Sims 4 is my game. During the summer, I would spend up to 10 hours a day playing. I also like building and furnishing houses; there must be some sort of interior-design side of me.”

Craziest Thing I’ve Ever Done: “Before I was into computers and knew how they worked, I was trying to download a game and didn’t realize it was ‘pirating.’ It downloaded, and the company soon began e-mailing and calling my mom. My dad called them back to straighten things out. I ended up having to wipe my laptop. Lesson learned: ‘Don’t pirate.’ ”

Why I Became Interested in Certs: “I’m kind of moderately competitive. When I saw that certs would let me go above and beyond my peers, while also working my way down my career path, I knew they were worth having.”

Benefits of Being Certified: “Certs are better than basic academic awards like the honor roll, because they display my accomplishments and I can actually get a job because I have them.”

Being Part of the Miller 6: “It was great. We worked together a lot. Helped each other when one of us didn’t understand something. I understood networking well, but struggled with Windows OS. Before taking each exam, some of us always seemed to get anxious and the rest would remind them they were ready and knew the material.”

Toughest Challenge of Earning Certs: “The short time-frame to prepare for the 902 Exam in just two months. I also struggled with Windows OS2. I just couldn’t seem to figure out a lot of Windows stuff.”

Best moment earning certs: “Being an IT elite at a such young age; I earned my A+ at 16.”

Future Plans: “I plan on going to college to major in information systems, maybe study some software and web development too. Graphic communications interest me as well, so I would want to tie that into the mix. As for certs, I also plan on earning a CCNA. Not sure what exactly I’ll do with a CCNA, but lots of established IT pros talk about their CCNAs, and it makes me think, ‘Why can’t I do that?’ ”

Most Important Ms. Miller Lesson: “It takes a lot of time, effort and focus to get certified and you may have to leave other fun things behind and pay the price. Sometimes that includes people who are keeping you from reaching your goals.”

Advice to Other Students: “You gotta want it bad enough. You will have to sacrifice time with family and friends. Fortunately, mine recognized I was doing something important and not just being anti-social.”

Six students of Virginia high school tech teacher Kari Miller worked together to earn CompTIA's A+ credential.Stafford Davis

Certifications: CompTIA A+

Study Habits: “Nothing special, just ground it out four-plus hours every day.”

Hobbies: “I love playing video games and learning about and building computers. Most people never look inside their computers. They should. It’s a great experience for learning concepts and understanding how everything works together. In class, my partner and I put one together in 90 minutes. I built my own at home over Christmas break in four hours. And it worked when I turned it on.”

Why I Became Interested in Certs: “Because I’ve always wanted to understand how computers operate, and how to make them operate better.”

Family Support: “My parents have constantly pushed me to keep working for what I want to do, which is very encouraging. I didn’t think I would have been able to complete the 902 portion in two months; I just didn’t think I could get it. But I did. I actually passed it with a better score than I thought possible.”

Benefits of being certified: “Certs are quite challenging to learn, but worth it because they provide a variety of knowledge as you earn them. They also tell others that you know what you are doing. That you’re certified!”

Being Part of the Miller 6: “This was a great way to go. It was great to be in a class with a group that was interested in learning the same thing. Made it easier to get along. We supported and helped one another with difficult concepts. We practiced by questioning each other on every A+ cert topic we could think of. It improved our knowledge and helped solidify things in our own minds. Working up to each exam, we were all uneasy about passing. But even with our doubts, we just kept working.”

Toughest Challenge of Earning Certs: “The most challenging aspect for me was actually covering all of the necessary topics. There were so many. Once I did that, it was simple, just keep crunching.”

Craziest Thing I’ve Ever Done: “I don’t do crazy things.”

Best Thing About the Certification Process: “Being able to use what I learned in practical situations, like building my own computer. It is pretty cool. But the best moment was passing the 902 Exam. I felt so much relief, and was especially happy seeing my teammates pass as well.”

Future Plans: “One of my goals is to get an IT position where I can put my skills to the test in a real-world environment. I also want to learn programming. I’m leaning toward a computer science degree in college and am really interested in cybersecurity.”

Most Important Ms. Miller Lesson: “Just focus on work and don’t get distracted. Do your own thing to make sure you get everything done that you need to do. This applies to everything in life, not just certifications and computers.”

Advice to Other Students: “Really learn your topic by doing hands-on work. Make sure you actually understand what you’re learning instead of just memorizing the answer.”

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