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SDN experts pay it forward to train future telecom pros

Engineer plugging in connectors to a fiber panel

Mitchell Technical Institute relies on industry experts to help keep its curriculum in telecommunications up to date.

Sixteen people in high-tech industries – including two experienced staff members from SDN Communications – serve on MTI’s Information Systems Technology Curriculum Board. Two administrators and two instructors from the Mitchell school also serve on the board.

Gary Fischer, a sales engineer at SDN in Sioux Falls, has volunteered his service to the board for more than 10 years. Tammy Grinnell, supervisor of corporate IT for SDN, has served on the same board for about two years, also as a volunteer.

“They’ve both been great,” and not just in discussing the technicalities in industry, said Jen Schumacher, who chairs the advisory board.

Fischer, Grinnell and other board members from organizations across South Dakota reinforce the need for students to be versatile and be able to think critically so that when assigned a task, they can figure out a way to get it done, said Schumacher. She’s an instructor as well as the head of the Information Systems Technology Department at MTI.

Grinnell was the first woman to serve on the advisory board. She was recruited, with help from Fischer, after a board discussion about IT being a male-dominated industry, Schumacher said. Since then, other women also have joined the board.

“Tammy also has been very helpful in giving input on technical support-type issues and anything like that,” Schumacher said.

During his decade on the board, Fischer has provided a lot of help with the curriculum as well as in helping secure a donation of bandwidth from SDN for students in engineering programs, Schumacher said.

“The folks that serve on the advisory board have just been absolutely amazing and essential to our program. I enjoy each and every one of them. They’re instrumental in helping us help our students start their careers in IT,” Schumacher said.

MTI was chartered in 1966. The school opened in 1968 as part of a statewide system of four technical institutes. Since its opening, more than 18,000 students have graduated from MTI, which offers students a variety of one-year and two-year programs.

At one time, telecommunications was the school’s flagship program. However, over time students have drifted into other technology-related fields. MTI also offers programs in areas such as health sciences and construction.

The school depends on a number of advisory boards to help keep its programs relevant for today’s job needs, Schumacher said.

Collectively, industry representatives who serve on the Information Systems Technology Curriculum Board help the school make sure that its technical curriculum is up to date and that faculty members are aware of new technologies in the field.

Fischer said serving on the board has been a mutually beneficial relationship for SDN and MTI. The school benefits by keeping up with what companies are looking for in employees. SDN benefits, in turn, he said, because the company has hired several graduates of the school.

Grinnell said that serving on the board has been a rewarding experience. “I feel that we contribute to what these students are learning, so they can go further in life,” she said.

Fischer and Grinnell aren’t the only two SDN staff members who volunteer to assist educational and public-spirited organizations. They’re just good examples.

SDN takes pride in the company and its employees being constructively active.

SDN Communications is a regional leader in providing broadband connectivity and cybersecurity services to businesses in communities such as Sioux Falls, Rapid City, Worthington, and the surrounding areas.

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