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By Samantha L. Quigley

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High School Students Take Day to Learn About ‘IT' Jobs
(February 10, 2009)

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Army Junior ROTC Cadet Judson Wheeler, left, and Gregory Smith, both students at Robert E. Lee High School in Springfield, Va., work to decode a message as part of a "Crack the Code" game students played while participating in the Defense Department's 3rd annual IT Job Shadow Day at the Pentagon, Feb. 5, 2009.
  WASHINGTON, Feb. 5, 2009

IT, or information technology, was the topic today for about 100 students, mostly from area high schools, as officials at the Pentagon hosted the 3rd annual IT Job Shadow Day.

The day was designed to give students a unique opportunity to observe the federal IT work force and learn about federal agencies in support of the Federal Chief Information Officers Council's Information Technology Job Shadow Day.

It also helps to attract future federal IT employees to repopulate the work force, which could possibly lose a large portion of its members to retirement, said Joyce France, director of the Defense Department's Chief Information Officer Management Services.

“Currently, [the Defense Department's] civilian IT work force demographics mirror those of the overall federal work force,” she said. “Both have a large retirement-eligible population -- over a third of the IT work force is over age 50.” The department employs more than 3 million people, all of whom use information technology in the course of their jobs, she noted.

“From the desktop computer, to the most complex business and war-fighting systems,” she said, “we are dependent on IT to perform our mission.”

While the Defense Department competes with the rest of the federal government and the private sector for the highly skilled employees with the necessary business, technology and acquisition competencies, France said, she's seen a trend since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

“We are finding that ... today's high school students have a sincere interest in wanting to serve their country by working for the federal government,” she said. “Particularly at [the Defense Department], there is a real sense of mission, and the IT professional can play a critical role in helping the warfighters protect our nation.”

The students, about 40 more than last year, spent the day with several Defense Department components in the national capital region. They learned about cyber security, forensics and the kinds of jobs the IT career field offers. The Defense Finance and Accounting Service in Indianapolis also hosted students from two high schools, France said, and 36 department agencies and 36 high schools overall participated in the IT Job Shadow Day.

“Each year, we continue to increase participation in IT Job Shadow Day and plan to expand the event worldwide,” she added.

“I hoped to gain more knowledge about this field and working with the Department of Defense,” said Sami Omer, a junior at Edison High School in Springfield, Va. “Actually talking to people who do work with the Department of Defense, [gave me] some of the inside tips and tricks and how to get your foot in the door. It's definitely been very insightful.”

Omer, who is interested in pursuing a career in information assurance, already had made up his mind that he was going to work for the government and work in the IT career field. The IT Job Shadow Day only served to reinforce that decision, he said.

Judson Wheeler, a senior, said he plans on becoming an Army Ranger, but if that doesn't work out, today's event has sparked an interest in the IT field.

“The forensic guy in there was actually pretty interesting,” Judson said. “I might actually do that, kind of like a special agent-type thing, but working with IT.” Judson splits his school day between Robert E. Lee High School and Edison Academy, where he participates in Army Junior ROTC. Both schools are in Springfield, Va.

Thomas Sterling agreed the opportunity gave him some background he wouldn't have been able to get any other way.

“I kind of want to integrate IT with military applications,” he said. “[The day] gave me more of a background, something that you wouldn't get from Web pages or pamphlets. It was more in-depth.” Sterling, a senior, splits his day between South Lakes High School in Reston, Va., and Chantilly Academy's Air Force Junior ROTC program in Chantilly, Va. He's applied to the Air Force Academy and received a congressional nomination.

The Pentagon's 3rd annual IT Job Shadow Day was co-sponsored by the Association for Federal Information Resources Management and by Junior Achievement.

Article and photo by Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service
Copyright 2009

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