“It was just like, Oh my God, I never knew there were so many things you could do with computers and whatnot.”

Danielle Southerland at a telecom routing station

Network specialist (IT trainee), ISC Networking and Telecommunications
Length of service:
2 months
(as a permanent employee)
Other stuff:
She’s pretty ambitious, so her life is her work. But she does relax on weekends, mainly watching
TV and studying.

Photo by Candace diCarlo

To get a plum job, it helps to make the right connections. Unfortunately, most Philadelphia high school students have little or no opportunity to make them.

University City High School graduate Danielle Sutherland, though, did — through a school-to-work program run through a partnership between Penn’s Skills Development Center and University City High School. The program places recent graduates and evening students at U.C. High into a 10-week training program where they took evening classes in computer, network and router repair and maintenance, and by day improved their skills via internships arranged through Penn’s Division of Information Systems and Computing (ISC).

Southerland’s quick grasp of the subject and strong skills led ISC to offer her a full-time position the moment she finished her internship. (Another intern was immediately hired by one of Penn’s major contractors, Tri-State Telecommunications, and a third achieved full membership in Local 98 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers — an impressive feat, according to Michael Palladino, executive director of ISC Networking and Telecommunications.)

As a result, Southerland is on her way to a brighter future than the one she was contemplating when she entered U.C. High.

Q. How did you hear about the Skills Development Center program?
Through my teacher at University City [Anne Urevick]. I was in a charter called Computer Servicing, and she hooked up with someone on [Penn’s] end, and in turn brought some of the students she knew from her previous high school classes.

Q. What did you think you would be doing after high school before you met Anne?
Just working in odd jobs. I had found a job at United Parcel Service – working there, [working] as a waitress, in different places. Just thinking about putting myself through school one day, and trying to take it from there. Other than that, nothing like this.

Q. So how did you get from working through school to configuring routers and telephones?
At first, we got to Anne’s class, and it was just like, Oh my God, I never knew that there were so many things you could do with computers and whatnot. I got a more inside look at them, comparing them, setting them up, things like that — it just whetted my interest a lot. I just knew then I wanted to go further with that, definitely.

Q. So what went on in that class?
We were supposed to be set up as a hands-on training type of thing. What we did was, we got donations from various companies, the Naval Base, any companies that were throwing out systems. We’d take them, and we would just go at ’em, just taking a piece from this computer, another piece from that one, building and selling them back to the public. And after that came the 10-week training program.

Q. What did they take you through on the training session?
Basic wiring, Cat5 [Category 5 twisted-pair cable], fiber optics, the basic things we would do on the job.

Q. Then did you just go right into the Penn internship, or was there something else involved?
Actually, while the program was still going on, we were introduced to Penn. So it was like — I think I had two weeks of class left, and they started me over there as a student. And I was going to school, and working two jobs — still at UPS, working here [at Penn], and studying.

Q. Had you figured you’d get hired full-time as quickly as you did?
No, no. No way. I was just thinking, maybe at least another year or two.

Q. Part of your job is configuring routers. What exactly does a router do, anyway?
Basically, you have your workstation, right? Like, say, here, and then you have a workstation in another room, let’s say, for example, miles apart. Your router helps these two talk together.

Q. What do you like about networking?
Can I say the money?

Q. Yeah, you can say the money.
And basically, it’s just a fun job. It’s hands on, and it’s nice company, too.

Q. Do you plan on pursuing college?
Yes, most definitely. Here, maybe. If not, then Community [College of Philadelphia], or Temple.

Q. You plan on working here while in college?
Yes, on a part-time schedule.

Q. What subjects will you study?
Telecommunications, maybe computer science. Something that’s building on networking.


Originally published on August 31, 2000