IST students teach, work for government ministry in Caribbean internship

University Park, Pa. — For five Penn State Information Sciences and Technology (IST) students, spending the summer in Grenada involved far more than gorgeous beaches, crystal-clear water and breathtaking views.

It also included teaching Java programming to secondary students, repairing desktops, networking two classrooms in secondary-school computer labs — and being a minority in a country with different customs, values and attitudes.

The students’ employer — the Grenada Ministry of Education.

“The first thing you notice — and the first thing that you let go of — is that you’re in a minority,” said Tim Knapton, a junior majoring in IST. “When people learned we weren’t tourists, they were interested in what we were doing and wanted to be sure we were enjoying ourselves.”

The 10-week internship was part of a unique partnership among IST, the Penn State College of Education, St. George’s University in Grenada and that island country’s education ministry. The hope is to make this internship program an annual opportunity for IST students, said Madhavi Kari, IST career solutions team lead and placement coordinator.

“This is a win-win partnership — our students have a real-world cultural experience and learn about global IT challenges while sharing their expertise and providing value to a government organization,” Kari said.

Before they left University Park, the five had only a brief introduction to Grenada, a country of islands, the largest of which is Grenada. Known as the “Spice Island” for the production of nutmeg and other spices, Grenada is home to about 100,000 — fewer people than what crowd into Beaver Stadium for home football games.

The Penn Staters also were unsure of their assignments as interns. But within hours of their arrival, they had their first project: Create a curriculum to teach Java to secondary-school students age 15 to 17 who were recommended by their teachers for week-long workshops.

“There was no book and no guidelines, so we wrote an outline of where to start, and then we created a manual with exercises,” said Augustin Kline, a senior IST major.

Said Jimmy Mesta, “We underestimated how quickly the students would learn, however, as in the first day, we went through two days of planning.”

The final version of the manual numbered 50 pages and was built around one of the hallmarks of IST classes — problem-based learning. Borrowing from IST 240: Introduction to Computer Languages, the IST students created problems which the high-school students had to solve using the manual as a resource.

“We were always walking around and helping, but we wanted the students to help each other out, too,” said Knapton, who is following up his summer experience with a study-abroad semester in Germany.

While four of the IST interns knew Java, Mesta, who is majoring in Security and Risk Analysis (SRA), had to learn it along with the Grenada students. That was not as daunting as instructing a group of secondary-school computer teachers — an assignment Kline and Knapton took on.

Adding to the challenge was Grenada’s information-technology infrastructure.

“They have the will but not the resources,” said Brenden Jeziorski, a senior. “A lot of their computers were old, and a lot of the IT teachers used their own money for their labs.”

While the interns spent days in the country’s public schools, they were housed in dorms belonging to St. George’s University, Grenada’s leading institution of higher education. They also had a couple of weeks where they stayed at island resorts after the university closed for the summer.

Even so, they experienced far more than most tourists who visit the country — including a family block party and lessons in cricket.

“The length of our internship was good because we really got to experience a very different culture where the pace was much slower, and there was a different orientation to getting things done,” said Anna Stoltz, a junior IST major. “We were helping, but we also were learning.”

The students hope to return to Grenada in December to work on setting up a wide-area network which would link the country’s schools by means of satellite dishes.

Published on September 27, 2007, Penn State News, http://news.psu.edu