ON THE JOB - Rend Lake College graduates Preston Nelson (LEFT) and Jeremy Jackson work on a faculty member's computer at Benton Consolidated High School. Both turned their experiences in RLC's cooperative education program into employment at the school. Jackson is the full-time network specialist at BCHS and Nelson was hired to a part-time position with the IT department this spring semester. CLICK HERE for a larger image. 

BENTON, Ill. – A couple of local graduates from the computer science program at Rend Lake College turned their co-op positions for college credit into paid positions at Benton Consolidated High School.

Jeremy Jackson, a RLC alumnus from Whittington, worked in a co-op position at BCHS for college credit in 2008-09. He is now the high school’s full-time network specialist. Recent RLC grad Preston Nelson of Benton took the same co-op path from RLC to a part-time position at BCHS this spring.

“It’s pretty cool,” Nelson said while working in the high school’s IT department last fall. “The hours are good and I get college credit.” The hours were so good, in fact, that Nelson was able to get time off for a trip to Brazil. His love of travelling and missionary work has also taken him to Romania.

Sometimes referred to as co-op, on-job-training or internship – cooperative education is a method of instruction that places RLC students into jobs relating to their majors. It’s attractive to both the student and employer because the employer typically gets a worker for less cost, and the student gains relative experience, gets financial assistance for college and sometimes, as in Nelson’s case, is offered a job.

Marla Harp is the curriculum and technology director at BCHS. As the person Jackson and Nelson report to, she said having the co-op position has been a valuable resource. Harp writes grants for new technology at Benton High. And while she is thankful to have support from a pro-tech school board and Superintendent Dr. Kelly Stewart, her employees were quick to sing her praises too.

“My job would be a lot more difficult if it wasn’t for her,” Jackson said of Harp. “The strong support system takes a lot of the stress off of me.”

Since Jackson came on board, he has gained experience with major projects like installing fiber and a campus-wide internal and external monitoring system using web-based cameras. He also worked with sub-networking, coordinating a class-to-class video chat to France via Skype, setting up and maintaining netbooks for social sciences classes, and a complete redesign of the school’s website.

“The thing I’ve learned most is to have a willingness to learn new things,” Jackson said. “Don’t come in with a ‘know-it-all’ attitude.”

They also mentioned Ricky Robinson, a longtime technology professor at RLC. In addition to teaching his students, Robinson makes an effort to get involved with their progress on the job site and helps them with any guidance he can offer on specific problems.

Nelson – who is A+, Network + and Security + certified – worked with Jackson two days a week in the co-op. Nelson said he became much more familiar with working on networking a Windows domain during his co-op experience. Harp added that communication and organization are the two biggest skills learned on the job there.

Paula Myers with the RLC Community and Corporate Education department said RLC’s Cooperative Education Program is funded entirely by grants through the State of Illinois Board of Higher Education.

“Rend Lake College has received this grant for over 20 years,” she said. “The work experience enables students to earn college credit, wages, and obtain hands-on classroom knowledge. Each year, at least 13 to 15 schools within the RLC district participate in the cooperative education program.”

Myers added that most students find placement both Fall and Spring semesters and can earn up to eight hours of college credit.

For more about the co-op program at RLC, visit the college online atwww.rlc.edu/ss/coop. For further information, contact Myers at 618-437-5321, Ext. 1380.

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