A few years ago, Jason Pucilowski got a unique Christmas gift from his parents: a computer. What made the gift stand out is how it arrived, literally in pieces. Not because a careless package handler missed the edge of the loading dock, but because Pucilowski's parents had seen what their then-freshman son was learning about IT in high school, and thought he might enjoy a dose of practical application.
“At the end of my freshman year, I built my own computer with the knowledge I had gained in the IT courses I took at school,” said Pucilowski, now 17 and preparing to graduate from Lee’s Summit West High School in Lee’s Summit, Mo. “It took me a little while, but I was able to get it done. That’s probably my favorite computer.”
Over his final two years of high school, Pucilowski pursued a course that’s become increasingly popular for local IT students by splitting time between Lee’s Summit West and Summit Technology Academy, a pre-professional intensive training school for students taking aim at technology careers. Students at Summit get a jump on college-level learning and also prepare, in some instances, to jump straight to the workforce (sometimes into highly compensated jobs) from high school.
For Pucilowski and others engaged in IT pursuits, the programs offered at Lee’s Summit West and Summit Technology Academy provide a first taste of certification. Pucilowski took to the challenge of certification like a sprinter to track shoes. He earned CompTIA’s A+ cert as a junior, and quickly followed that up with Network+, as well as the PC Pro, Network Pro and Security Pro credentials offered by TestOut.
With all of that going for him, Pucilowski nailed down an internship as a network administrator for Lee’s Summit School District. He’s got his eye on a four-year university degree, and wants to eventually end up as a computer engineer. There’s no reason to believe those goals aren’t well within his grasp. The hard-working teen is deeply committed to learning. Like a star athlete, Pucilowski leaves it all on the court — or in his case, in the classroom. “I try very hard,” he said. “I know that the knowledge I’ve been able to gain will help me in my career, and I take it very seriously.”
Another realm in which Pucilowski works hard is as a member of Summit Technology Academy’s CyberPatriot team. CyberPatriot, a national education and competition program sponsored by the Air Force Association, is like marching band or varsity football for the IT crowd. Students drill relentlessly to prepare for competitions that test their IT security skills. Many evenings after most students are at home, the Summit Technology Academy CyberPatriot team can be found drilling with their instructors on complex security-related questions, in preparation for competition.
“I’m very excited to go compete with my CyberPatriot team in Washington, D.C.,” Pucilowski said. (The two teams from Summit Academy Technology fared well at the competition, held in early April, placing first and second in the Cisco Networking skills competition. The school rode that remarkable placement to a strong overall finish, placing third overall among all schools competing.) With a fistful of certifications already in his grasp, and college beckoning, the future looks bright for Jason Pucilowski.