Editor’s note – This article is one of a series of feature stories from Southern State Community College highlighting alumni and the specific degree programs they completed.
Tyler Hisel liked computers — “I always had a knack for them,” he said — but he never considered making them a career because he didn’t want to sit behind a desk all day.
But after graduating with an associate’s degree in Computer Generalist from Southern State Community College, Hisel landed a job as a network operations engineer at the General Electric aviation plant in Peebles – a 7,000-acre swath of land with 12 test sites and plenty of room to stretch his legs.
Hisel said he connects large computer devices and engine equipment devices that read engine data, manages the phone system and performs some helpdesk services.
“I’m more the kind to get out and help people face to face,” he said. “This gives me the opportunity to do that.”
Hisel, 27, grew up in the Hillsboro area and always enjoyed working on computers.
“It was interesting to me the things you could do, from both the physical side and the software side,” Hisel said. “I would piece things together, put in a CD, see if I could install software.”
Hisel said despite his tech propensity, he didn’t see himself pursuing a career in computer science until he landed at Southern State.
“Even though I had some people say it was something I was good at, I didn’t consider it as a career,” he said. “I didn’t want to sit at a computer all day. I’m more of an active person; I like to talk to people.”
Hisel said friends and family advised him to knock out a few general education classes at the local community college, and he enrolled in the criminal justice program at Southern State.
“I did two quarters of that and realized there was a lot of paperwork involved in the criminal justice field,” Hisel said. “I kind of re-evaluated and started taking some computer classes and enjoyed it.”
Hisel was enrolled at Southern State for three years and graduated at the age of 21 in spring of 2013.
“Financially, it made sense for me to go to Southern State for the fact that my parents aren’t wealthy,” he said, adding that many in southern Ohio can relate. Hisel said the financial department was always able to give him a clear breakdown of his tuition and other costs, and thanks to a Pell grant and a full-time job at a local pizza restaurant, Hisel was able to minimize debt.
Hisel said one of his favorite classes was with Josh Montgomery, now the assistant professor of computer science at the college.
Montgomery has found himself in the media spotlight thanks to his home-made full-size exact replica of R2-D2, a lovable droid from the Star Wars film series.
Hisel said a networking class with Montgomery was “one of the best classes I’ve had.”
“He would actually want us to physically go somewhere and do something,” he said. “On top of that, he has a willingness to listen. For him, there is no dumb question.”
Montgomery, a Southern State alumni himself, said providing his students with hands-on experience is one of the most important aspects of his job.
“If we’re in this lab, we’re doing something,” Montgomery said.
Thanks to a $125,000 RAPIDS grant, Montgomery was able to furnish his computer lab with 3D printers, 3D scanners, a super computer and enough material to build two BB-8 Star Wars droids.
Montgomery said his Computer Information Technology and Cyber Security classes are student-focused. Last year, Montgomery’s students each developed their own project and brought it to fruition – including a drone, an automated mirror and a small weather station.
This year, Montgomery said he wants students to scan children’s heads and make custom bobble head dolls with the program’s 3D technology. He also said he is working with the nursing program and Highland District Hospital to develop 3D-printed prosthetic limbs for amputees.
Montgomery said computer science is often overlooked in Highland County and the surrounding region, which is rural and agricultural-focused. Problematic, too, is what Montgomery described as a stigma surrounding community college.
Montgomery said he wants to overcome both of those challenges with one mission: “To have the best program in the state.”
For more information about Southern State’s Computer Science Program, please visit www.sscc.edu, email Josh Montgomery at [email protected], or call 800-628-7722, ext. 2736.
David Wright is a local journalist and freelance writer.