Tom Polinceusz, Minnesota School of Business-St. Cloud Information Technology Program Chair, believes that building a computer from scratch is both a creative and practical process.
That is why his entry-level Computer Essentials class focuses on the Build Your Own Computer project. Students start the process by choosing and ordering the parts for their “from-scratch” computer. Polinceusz explains, “How you choose your parts expresses your individuality. Each student is budgeted $400 for parts. One might choose to spend more on a fancy graphics card and another on a faster processor. I can tell a lot about a student by the computer they build.”
A local company, MinCo, is one of the parts suppliers, and it is a business partnership that pays off down the line. To date, three MSB IT students have been hired at MinCo.
Once students receive their parts, they participate in a two-hour lab to build the computer. This quarter, Computer Essentials students benefited from the mentoring of upper-level student Lance Valentine, who had taken the course previously and is also a MinCo employee.
Valentine comments, “Every day in my job I put these skills and education to work, and I gained an amazing amount of experience [through mentoring] that helps me do my job better. I also believe that the experience I achieved from education can help me teach others and provide a better service to the community.”
Ben Thayer participated in the class and built his first computer. The challenge of the project, he says, is during the design process. “You have to make sure that the parts are right and work together. You don’t want to wreck it along the way. There’s a lot of ways to go wrong.”
After the computer is completely designed and constructed, students then take it to the lab where operating systems are installed and tests run to ensure its working viability. As a final step, they do a reflection paper on their learning throughout the process.
Their project represents the type of work they might do as a Best Buy “Geek Squad” specialist, for example. It also builds the foundation for any IT support staff person or Helpdesk professional.
Valentine shares his experience: “At my place of work, I build computers, remove viruses and install software and hardware for our everyday customers. What I take from this learning is how to troubleshoot, get a better understanding of why I’m doing it and gain the experience of working with other people.”
Thayer and Polinceusz agree that this project is ideal for any student, not just those in the IT program. “Computers aren’t going away,” Thayer comments. “You can fix your own or pay somebody else.”
Polinceusz reflects on the project, “Someday, I’d like to have the next Bill Gates or Steve Jobs as a student. And that’s how they got their start. Building computers from spare parts in the garage.”