Josh Montgomery, a computer science professor at Southern State Community College (SSCC), knew it was time to make some changes to the college’s computer technology program. SSCC, a community college with three locations that serve students in Adams, Brown, Clinton, Fayette and Highland counties, was offering a program based on computer and information technology, preparing students for careers as network technicians, server administrators and positions in help desk operations. But the changing technological landscape, as well as the changing interests of his students, meant it was time for a change.

“I was getting students to come to me who also wanted to know more of the programming aspects, that wanted to know more robotics and cybersecurity,” says Montgomery. “So we kind of retooled the degree to have these areas that focused on these as well.”

The new computer technology program that will be offered this fall allows the students to choose two of four focus areas—networking, programming, cybersecurity and robotics—to tailor their degree to their interests and career goals.

A student who chooses the cybersecurity and networking tracks, for example, could look for work as a systems analyst or doing cybersecurity work for banks.

“My focus is to try to give students the opportunity to move around and take classes that are interesting to them,” says Montgomery.

Montgomery was inspired to make this change by a visit to Miami University. In some of its programs, Miami University was having students take the same classes the first year but then having them pick concentration areas within their major in the following years, allowing students to personalize their degree.

“I started thinking, ‘Man, what if I could have multiple of these areas?’” he says. “I wanted to make sure that if someone wanted to have a cybersecurity degree that they could take that focus area and the networking area and be able to do the same kind of work if they wanted a full cybersecurity degree.”

Starting in the fall, students entering the computer technology program at SSCC will still have to take the same core classes, but, starting their spring semester, be able to pick and choose their focus area classes to better fit their goals.

Students and other faculty members are already excited about this new program.

“The advisory team was very excited by the opportunity because then we didn’t have to have a full degree in programming or a full degree in fiber, we have these focus areas [where] we could hit all the core elements,” he says.

While students won’t experience the new program until the fall, current SSCC computer technology students have already been able to take part in another innovation at the college. Montgomery has implemented individualized project-based instruction in several of his classes to give students a hands-on opportunity that also sparks their creativity.

“I have courses—my programming courses, my capstone courses, and some engineering courses—that I teach that all drive at a big project at the end of the course and sometimes a project may take multiple semesters for us to finish,” he says.

Students determine what the project will be on their own, making each project unique. “As long as it hits certain criteria that I need to have finished in the program and the project, then I will support them to do whatever they want to do,” adds Montgomery.

While students have created cybersecurity and programming projects, and even designed a network, the most attention-grabbing projects are the robots. Students have built working robot replicas of the Mars Rover and droids from Star Wars, such as BB-8.

“It’s fun to engage with the students and watch them kind of grow an idea and watch them get excited about it, and it’s really my job to teach and guide them through that process,” says Montgomery.

And by incorporating this project-based work with the new focus areas of the computer technology program, Montgomery and SSCC will be able to continue to guide students as they prepare for their future careers.

Manufacturing Help

While the governor’s stay-at-home orders were in place, Josh Montgomery, a computer science professor at Southern State Community College (SSCC), was, like many teachers, doing what he could to ensure his students were still receiving a quality education, going so far as to deliver pieces directly to his students’ homes so they could continue to work. But that wasn’t all he was up to during that time.

To help first responders and other frontline medical workers, Montgomery created the Southern Ohio Makers Against COVID Coalition (SOMACC).

Using 3D printers, Montgomery and 60 other makers across southern Ohio have made more than 4,400 face masks for 68 medical organizations in the region. Schools, such as Great Oaks Career Campuses, have participated, and SOMACC has collected donations to repay these schools for their generosity.

“We raised $12,000 and with that money I used that to basically buy filament [the product used to create 3D printed objects] for all the schools,” says Montgomery. “We had a lot of people contribute money and support and it’s been really great.”