INA – With the largest Foundation donation Rend Lake College has ever received, Verizon Wireless may be saying, ‘We will never stop working for you,” to the students of RLC.
After a year of searching for a way to add an expensive, key component to the Wireless Communications Technology program at Rend Lake College, Verizon Wireless has sent a huge message of support.
Salah Shakir, RLC’s Vice President of Information Technology and Student Services, announced Wednesday that the search is over and “the switch” has been found.
Shakir called the switch the “brain of the network” that manages all phone calls made on a cellular network and routes them in the right direction. It is a “traffic controller” that manages data and video, in addition to voice traffic, he said.
The fair market value of the switch is $1 million, making it the largest donation the Rend Lake College Foundation has received since its establishment in 1967 and its reactivation in 1979, according to Foundation CEO Pat Kern. The largest gifts the Foundation had received prior to the switch were the Dr. Barbara Luchsinger donation of farmland in 2005 and a gift of property north of the Holiday Inn in Mt. Vernon in 2001. They were worth more than a half-million dollars each.
Acquiring the switch from Verizon is a training milestone that will boost a student’s readiness for the wireless workforce.
“We wanted to have a complete operation with limited radio propagation on a cellular network that would be a duplication of what local providers have,” Shakir said.
He explained that the search for a switch began more than a year ago when the program was in its infancy. After investigating the market, administrators realized that the main cellular network component needed, the switch, would cost $500,000 to $5 million – which RLC could not afford with federal Title III funding used to develop and design the program.
The college approached the members of an advisory council for the program, one of which, Terry Addington, was then in a position to help as the CEO of First Cellular of Southern Illinois. Addington joined the mission to obtain a switch until First Cellular was bought out by Alltel.
Shakir said the college then approached Stephen Woods, Operations Manager for Verizon Wireless in Carbondale.
“We indicated our need and he was very supportive,” Shakir said. “Woods said he would do his best through Verizon channels to acquire the switch after telling his superiors about the Wireless Communications Technology program and its benefits to their business.”
Six months later, Woods informed Shakir that a switch had been located for the RLC program.
Due to company protocol and financial aspects yet to be finalized, Woods could not comment in detail about the donation.
“We are excited, happy and thrilled, “Shakir said. “This makes it financially easier for us to finish and create the cellular network that will provide students hands-on experience with the type of equipment they will see upon entering the workforce.”
This year, Shakir became a member of the Global Wireless Education Consortium, or GWEC. He explained that many of GWEC members utilize the consortium to gear their curricula toward what type of training the industry is demanding of workers.
Most wireless communications programs lean more toward training in engineering than toward a vocational two-year program like RLC offers, according to Shakir. Add the Verizon Wireless switch to the already industry-intensive instruction in Wireless Communications Technology at RLC, and the program becomes even more on the leading edge of training in the public, two-year sector.
“Training on this switch will give students a big advantage when going into an employment position,” Shakir said. “They will already have hands-on experience with a significant piece of equipment. Companies spend millions of dollars to train people to become technicians and work with this technology.”
One student taking courses in Wireless Communications Technology at RLC is an example of how RLC’s program provides the training that corporations, such as Verizon, want for their workers.
Adam Klann, a Verizon employee in retail customer support and service, left his home in Bay City, Mich., to train in the RLC Wireless Communications Technology program.
He said he was on-line, searching for wireless programs in the U.S., when RLC’s program popped up.
“It was kind of blind luck that I stumbled upon it,” he said. Verizon would have covered Klann’s tuition, but he qualified for federal grants, he added.
“It’s excellent,” he said of RLC’s program. “I love all the homework. Chris has been an excellent instructor.”
“It’s definitely a boom for our program,” RLC Wireless Communications Technology Associate Professor Chris Sink said of the donation. “It is going to give our students the ability to work in a real-life situation with real industry equipment. I also feel it is a validation for our program that we have a very large corporation willing to donate an expensive piece of equipment for our program and the betterment of the industry. I’m proud to be associated with Verizon in this endeavor and I see nothing but benefit for both the industry and our students.”
Kern said the switch is a “true donation” that will continue to benefit Verizon Wireless once it reaches RLC students because it can be refurbished, updated and used at a cellular site.
“Many times, companies donate equipment and that equipment can no longer be used by the company,” she said. “What’s special about this donation is that Verizon can still use the switch. It’s not a piece of equipment that they are looking to remove from their inventory. It is much, much more than that.”
The Foundation, which acts as the gift-acceptance arm of the college, will transfer ownership of the switch to the college after it is acquired, Kern added.