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Career Launch program prepares Quincy students for local data center work

Ross Kondo with QSD students at NCW Tech Awards
The story was originally published in the Winter edition of the Communicator.

Career Launch program prepares Quincy students for local data center work

In June 2023, Quincy School District (QSD) announced a partnership with multiple local and regional agencies to help prepare Quincy graduates to work in the data center field. The Data Center Technician Career Launch program is a rigorous, industry-supported academic program that allows students to earn industry certificates and college-level credits.  
Ross Kondo with QSD students at NCW Tech Awards

Ross Kondo (right) and students attend the 22nd Annual Innovator Awards Luncheon

Career Launch programs, endorsed by Career Connect Washington, are designed to prepare students for in-demand, high-wage jobs. This is the first Career Launch program in the Quincy School District, and it was designed specifically for the fastest-growing local industry: data centers.  

The program comes after years of collaboration with leaders from the business, nonprofit and education sectors. Partners for the program include Computing for All, the North Central Career Connect Washington Regional Network, Big Bend Community College, and employer partners Microsoft, Sabey Data Centers, and QSD IT. 

“We put in a lot of work for a lot of years. These partnerships are very precious to us,” said Nicole Monroe, Career and Technical Education (CTE) Director for QSD. “Every partnership we expand is helping us to develop future employees for more and more people, growing our community and helping our students be able to stay in this community and have high-wage jobs to support their families and their extended families.”  

Ross Kondo, Quincy High School technology teacher, has been developing the QHS computer science program with help from community partners for years. He first collaborated with the Microsoft Technology Education and Literacy in Schools (TEALS) program almost a decade ago to bring professional software developers and engineers into the classroom. Four years ago, he introduced the first Computer Science TEALS course, and at the insistence of students, he expanded the program to include an Advanced Placement (AP) course and a Project Management in Technology course. 

“Just because we’re rural, I never want that to mean that our kids are less exposed to opportunities,” he said.  
Kondo’s work in bringing modern technology education to QSD earned him the STEM Champion of the Year award from North Central Washington Tech Alliance in 2023. He has been an important collaborator for the Career Launch program, and he said that his students are ready and willing to do more with computer science.  

“[The program] is definitely rigorous, because they are preparing for industry certifications,” he said. “However, when the kids can see themselves in a career and it’s something they are interested in, they are motivated.” 

Kondo, who has been teaching in Quincy since 2005, sees the workforce education and experience Career Launch provides as especially important for rural communities and for the large population of Hispanic families in Quincy. 
“Our Hispanic students are very grounded and have strong foundations in family, so leaving was hard for some of my computer science kids,” he said. “An opportunity to stay local with the data centers is exciting. They can have an immediate impact on their lives and their families’ lives.” 

Quincy High School Principal Felicie Becker said that allowing students to stay in the community is a big driver in creating opportunities like this one. 

“One of the valuable aspects of Quincy is that it’s such a tight-knit, family-oriented community and we know from perception data that it’s really important to our kids that they are able to return to or stay in Quincy,” she said. “I think one of the things that is really valuable about this experience is that it’s really rooted in a thriving economy and job market that is actually in Quincy. It creates these opportunities for our students to stay close to their families and be able to raise their own families now. In the past, our kids have felt that they needed to leave in order to have opportunities, and now that’s not the case.”  

The program does not just benefit students. Data center partners like Microsoft and Sabey Data Centers get ready-to-work graduates who have been educated and trained using relevant, rigorous curricula.  

Ryan Beebout, Sabey Data Centers general manager, said Sabey has always been invested in the community, and the Career Launch program is another example of that.  

“When a data center company like us moves into a small town like Quincy we focus on building long-term relationships,” Beebout said. “We want to embed ourselves in the community and become part of the community for the long term. Part of that is making sure that the good careers that we offer are going to locals as much as possible.” 

Beebout was on the small team that established the Sabey Data Centers Quincy campus when it first arrived in 2011.
“It was really important to us once we got started to try and hire locally,” he said. “It’s not always easy to do, and it wasn’t easy to do in the beginning.” 

Now, of the 40 Sabey employees on the Quincy campus, around 30 are from Grant County and the remainder are from Chelan and Douglas counties. Sabey Data Centers has been actively helping to build a workforce development pipeline. The career launch program is “going to make the pipeline healthier and more efficient,” Beebout said.  

Students in the Career Launch program have the opportunity to earn a variety of certificates, said Kondo, including the Amazon Computer Foundations certificates, the CompTIA IT Fundamentals certification, and the CompTIA A+ certification.  

“Those certs are a great starting point for getting your foot in the door in an entry-level position,” Shaun Devine, director of operations at Sabey Data Centers said. “They prove competency within the industry and their ability to make an impact on whatever team they end up joining.” 

Students in the program can also apply for internship opportunities, including a paid internship with QSD IT or a paid summer internship with Sabey. Career Launch programs aim to give students real-life, hands-on experience in their fields. And the skills employees need aren’t just technical, Devine said.  

“One of the things that we spend a lot of time talking about during classroom visits and when we do tours with the students is making sure they don’t neglect the soft skills,” Devine said. “You can get all your certifications, but you still have to come in every day, show up on time, communicate with team members and be a good teammate.” 

 Sabey is active in their outreach to students, Devine said, visiting classrooms and job fairs and offering facility tours so learners and community members can see the offices and equipment on the Sabey campus. 

“If I didn’t work in a data center, I would assume data center jobs involved coding all day,” Devine said. “We’re trying to pull back that curtain and let students and faculty and counselors and anybody else who wants to understand what happens here see what it looks like and what the environment is like.” 

Through tours and outreach, Sabey has recruited from local schools, with Quincy High School alumni employed in multiple roles at the company. Through the Career Launch program, the goal is to ensure employers are looking to Quincy for prepared graduates.  

“When we talk with our community partners, they are realizing what our high school students are capable of,’ said Elizabeth Averill, QHS assistant principal. “It’s exciting to see that they want to partner with us more closely to really prepare that next generation of workers.”