Southington CNM Students Benefit from Hands-on Training

Coursework in Computer Networking Management equips students for a variety of career options

Elis Rodriguez, Marlene Derouin, James Demoranville, and Daniel Jones (not in photo) are shown disassembling desktop computers in their foundational CNM 100 – Hardware A+ Certification course. Of course, later they also had to put them back together and make sure they still worked! Read more about this small, close-knit group of students, their different backgrounds and their future goals

Never before have issues of network security been more essential to how we function in our daily life. Whether we must interact with companies for banking, technology, healthcare, or any number of other fields, keeping our information secure can be the cornerstone of a business. Students at Branford Hall’s Southington campus are gaining practical experience in the Computer Networking Management (CNM) program, which equips them for a range of careers that use hardware and software to manage and protect precious information.

We recently caught up with Lori Swanson, Lead Instructor in the CNM program at the Southington Campus, as well as CNM Instructor Dr. Paul Picard and a handful of their students, to learn about the hands-on training that’s an integral part of the program.

Learning computers from the inside-out

In the class CNM 100 (Hardware A+ Certification), students learn to perform hardware upgrades on desktop personal computers. “Part of the class is taking apart computers, laying out the various components on the table, and examining them,” Swanson says. “The objective is to make sure they still work when they’re put back together!” She has a closet full of different kinds of desktop machines, perhaps 15 or so, that the students use to practice—and they don’t all come apart the same way.

Marlene Derouin, a CNM student from New Britain, says the first time she looked at the machines was daunting. “I had never opened up a computer in my life—all I knew how to do was turn one on,” she says. “But then we had time to play around with them, and taking pictures was a huge help.” She learned that, with the support of their teachers, she and her fellow students were able to solve problems together. “It was eye-opening not to be terrified anymore,” says Marlene. “The outcome was being able to say to myself, ‘I can do this!’”

For this particular lesson, Swanson and Picard supervise the process. “We walk around and point out certain elements of the hardware,” Swanson says. “If a student is holding a connector, we’ll ask, ‘Where does that piece go?’ and help them work towards an answer.”

To prepare students, Swanson and Picard review each component, using textbooks and the parts on hand. “The students are in my classroom for several hours when we do this exercise,” Swanson adds, “and if we have enough time, I have them take the entire machine apart again.”

Real-world applications in a range of jobs

The skills that Swanson and Picard are teaching equip students for a number of different jobs, ranging from network administrator and computer repair technician to network security. Picard says that, given additional experience, graduates could eventually move into an area called “ethical hacking.” He explains that this takes some of the same skills of the malicious “black-hat” hacking—which seeks to steal or corrupt information—and uses them to benefit the owner of a network. These “white hat hackers” do what’s called “penetration testing” to analyze and test the security of a network, and use what they find to improve it.

Another growing field in which these students train is called operating system virtualization. Picard says this involves creating a virtual network from a single computer, to build servers and work stations that can be distributed over the network—to clients locally as well as across the United States and Canada.

“The program offers a series of laboratory classes in which students perform in virtual mode,” says Picard, “handling network security issues and even ethically hacking one machine remotely, from another.” Swanson adds that this is an excellent resource from a systems management perspective, given that a technician can handle issues without interrupting work employees are actively doing on the machines.

A close-knit group of students

“There is a group of only four in this class,” says Swanson, “and they spend 7½ hours together each day, so they really get to know each other.” Marlene says the small class size has been useful but also made it fun. “We just had a great time,” she says. “It’s helpful to learn in a small classroom setting, and get real hands-on experience.”

Noting that several of them are at different stages of their lives, Marlene says she’d recently left a career in restaurant management. “I got tired of working weekends, at a job where I wasn’t learning anything new anymore. With computer network management, I know I’ll never get bored.”

James Demoranville, who lives in Middletown, says he is especially looking forward to additional training on the ethical hacking aspect of the curriculum. “So far I like everything we’ve studied,” he says, “and even when you get frustrated, it’s easy to talk to your classmates. It all feels very family-oriented.”

Elis Rodriguez is from New Britain and learned about Branford Hall because her cousin attended the Massage Therapy program. “The CNM program is living up to what I expected,” she says. She’s looking forward to finishing and getting out into the working world in July.

Daniel Jones, of Naugatuck, retired recently after 24 years of driving trucks. He says he is enjoying staying put in one place and pursuing a second career. “I had some background in computers, but now I’m seeing that I’ve just scratched the surface,” he says. “There’s such a huge world to learn about, and so much the average person doesn’t know about network security.”

Once piece of practical advice had a big impact on the students. They learned that, to be secure, a password for any online accounts should have at least 15 characters. “We showed them how easy it is to crack passwords that are shorter than that,” Picard says, “and they were astounded to see we could do it in less than 20 seconds.”

Putting skills into practice

Swanson explains that students will go off on an externship once they’ve completed their coursework—but not necessarily to an employer that focuses exclusively on network security. “Their exact duties will depend on where they go,” she says. The extern might staff a help desk, or install networked equipment, and this could mean working in a hospital, clinic, or even a school system. “There are plenty of opportunities,” Swanson adds, “and the majority of our graduates end up working full-time at their extern site.”

Wherever these students end up applying their skills, we wish them the best, as they make their way through the CNM program. It is clear that what they are learning and practicing at Branford Hall will serve them well as they rise to meet the challenges that modern computer networks pose.

This article is part of the Branford Hall weekly blog. We’re committed to helping all our students strive to attain their professional goals. Find out more about the professional training programs we offer at nine campuses in Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York, and New Jersey. Reach out to us for more information today, or call 1.800.959.7599 and schedule a visit.