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Instructor Brings the Mainframe to Eager Students

Phil Grabowski
Pittsburgh Technical College instructor Phil Grabowski leads students in the 2016 IBM Master the Mainframe contest. Grabowski has been instrumental in bringing mainframe education to the school. Photo by Volkmar Kuntz, Pittsburgh Technical College

Phil Grabowski is passionate about bringing the power of the mainframe to students. His enthusiasm is apparent, as witnessed at the recent SHARE user group event, where he was full of smiles and positive words for and about the students and technology. The instructor from Pittsburgh Technical College (PTC) chartered a bus from Pennsylvania to Providence, Rhode Island, so 29 students could experience the platform firsthand.

Before attending the event, Grabowski says the students had no knowledge of mainframes and believed the servers were a niche market talked about in history books. Going to SHARE “opened up the eyes to students the vast opportunities of what is available to them in the job market,” he says.

Mainframe education at PTC began in March 2016. The college was already an academic partner with IBM, giving it resources to bring software and technologies into the classroom. Grabowski worked with Paul Newton, consulting IT specialist, IBM, and educator Packy Laverty, professor of computer and information systems, Robert Morris University, to bring mainframe training into the PTC curriculum.

“When I spoke with Paul Newton, he was so eager and excited to give us the opportunity for our school to pursue mainframe technologies,” Grabowski recalls. Newton gave PTC its own z/OS* splash screen with 20 logins and an administrative login, allowing students to use a mainframe as part of their education and training.

PTC’s School of Information Technology, where the mainframe is taught, has about 350 students. It’s a career-driven school featuring industrial and hands-on experience, so it’s important for students to have access to the technology.

“Explaining to students that mainframes do over a billion transactions a day and run Western civilization’s digital economy—especially how you can explain that the infrastructure is used by everyone almost every day— becomes a great story,” Grabowski says. “Learning about the vendors that are using mainframe technologies becomes a perfect launch point to inspire students about the different job opportunities available to them.”

The college continues to move education forward, just like the mainframe itself. In 2016 the program was approved to provide a Bachelor of Science in IT and business administration. And since the summer SHARE event, students have started a mainframe club and participated in the IBM Unchain the Frame and Master the Mainframe events.

As for the future, Grabowski would love to have a course devoted to z/OS and COBOL, which he plans to integrate into the baccalaureate program. “The students are so enthusiastic,” Grabowski notes. “They want to explore more opportunities for a mainframe career.”

Valerie Dennis Craven is a Minneapolis-based writer and editor.



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