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Lab Manager Program: Where Interest Meets Opportunity And IT Solutions Are Found

In an age of wireless omnipresence, the existence of a phone in every La Salle College High School classroom would seem, on its surface, archaic, if not anachronistic. 

But should your PowerPoint presentation falter in mid-lesson, or your video screen draw a blank, the value of such a ``Bat-phone’’ becomes not only relevant but critical. Teachers at the school have committed to memory ``4994’’ -- the four digits that connect them to the school’s IT Lab, where a rotating group of about 30 students are willing, and more importantly able, to rush to the rescue. 

``Some days you will go the entire day without a call, other days we’ll get a call every five minutes,’’ says senior Peter Koniers, one of the Lab Manager Program’s co-presidents. ``Definitely the first two weeks of school, maybe even first month of school, it can get pretty busy. ’’ 

La Salle’s unique and award-winning Lab Manager Program embodies the school’s ever-growing emphasis on technology and provides the opportunity for students to progressively develop IT skills through a mentoring program. As they learn, the team of students work together every day to maintain, upgrade, and manage the IT network throughout the entire school. From their initial introduction freshman year to graduation, approved members are given the opportunity to run La Salle’s Cisco Meraki network, which consists of over 1,200 users. Troubleshooting skills are developed through teacher guidance and by pairing off with more experienced upperclassmen, creating a feeder system that gives back to the school while providing lessons in technology and opportunities for leadership and teaching skills.  

Sophomore Andrew Rakow ‘24 provided great insight into the student mentorship experience of the Lab Manager Program,  “The hands on experience and knowledge I’ve gained over the past year and a half participating in Lab Managers is quite remarkable. The upperclassmen mentors of the program really encourage me to learn about the field and help me understand different technical problems and how to approach them.”

Begun over 20 years ago by former Chief Information Officer Peter Sigmund ‘85, the program is now overseen by Michael Sabatino, Director of Technology and Information Systems, and Justin O’Hara '09, Systems Administrator. Beginning in freshman year, incoming students are interviewed, and members selected based on several factors that include a history of responsibility and collegiality.  

``I’m not really looking for guys that have previous experience because there's very little previous experience that a 14-year-old or 15-year-old can have.’’ says Sabatino. ``Clearly, you're going to find that kid anyway. I'm really more interested in kids that are interested in technology. Kids who may have tinkered with their home computers,  or messed around and tried to figure out a home network or something like that, whether successful or not -- it shows me that they have a desire to learn.’’ 

That describes Koniers in a nutshell – or should we say megabyte? His brother Ben, who is two years older, was part of the program and encouraged him to apply as a freshman. “I really didn't have any knowledge of anything IT related at the time,’’ Peter Koniers says. ``The most I had done was maybe look at computer parts. Once or twice, but I really had no idea of any of the technical side of it and then.’’ 

Ben Koniers and his peers took advantage of La Salle’s paid summer internship program under Sabatino, working on several projects to upgrade and improve La Salle’s system. When the school year began, his brother tagged along or leaned in to ask and learn when one of them was working on something in the lab.  

``That’s a big part of the program,’’ Peter Koniers says. ``You can ask any of the leaders what project they’re working on, and offer to help with it. I learned through that, and then I was selected to join them over the summer. That's probably where most of my technical learning came from.’’ 

It's an added aspect of an educational experience that was already full of avenues. And he’s far from alone in such an enriching journey. There were some issues when Cisco Meraki was first being installed as the school’s wireless network, says Sabatino. So what did they do? They put one of their top seniors, Ryan Keenan, on a video call with some of Cisco’s tech guys. 

``They're sitting there, and here's this 18-year-old kid walking through what he's seeing, ’’ Sabatino says. ``And you can see their faces on the screen, and they’re nodding like, `Oh, this kid knows what he’s talking about. We actually hadn't thought of that. Let's look into that.” 

``I had people reach out to me on the side to say that it's really impressive that you have an 18- year-old who can describe exactly what's happening at our network. But that’s what’s happening at La Salle. They’re learning by doing.’’ 

In addition to the hands-on learning through our extracurruculular clubs such as the Lab Manager Program, La Salle offers over 20 technology courses through our Innovation and Design Department.  All freshmen are required to take our Introduction to Technology and Design course and from there – various electives are available in networking, programming, media, engineering and robotics. 

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