Thursday, May 12, 2011

IWI welcomes BTOP public computer center director

Rich Prather, public computer center director, and Amanda Turner, administrative assistant

Last September, MCC was awarded $2.5 million through the Pathways to Broadband Access and Technological Education at Missouri’s Community Colleges project (BTOP) and the Missouri Department of Higher Education to support public computer centers. The project is a joint effort between the Administrative Center staff and the Institute for Workforce Innovation (IWI).

Now, the project can now truly begin as MCC welcomes Richard Prather, director for the BTOP public computer centers, who came on board last month.

Prather brings thirty years of experience in telecommunications. After graduating from Southwest Missouri State University with a degree in psychology and social work, he went to work for Southwestern Bell. As the company changed to SBC then to AT&T, Prather served in a variety of technical, managerial and marketing roles. Prior to Southwestern Bell, he worked with support groups in a Springfield psychiatric unit. He majored in psychology out of a desire to help others. Even when he joined the corporate ranks, he was always interested in starting up employee-assistance programs. When Prather retired from AT&T last year, he found he wasn’t really ready to retire. And when the opportunity to work with public computer centers came along, he jumped at the chance.

“I think this can truly make a difference in people’s lives,” said Prather. The public computer centers will offer open labs to teach basic computer literacy, such as Microsoft Office, Internet usage, social networking, and a variety of other user-related topics with an eye towards employability. The centers will be open to any Missouri resident. People who come to the computer centers will be encouraged to take advantage of MCC opportunities like counseling, and certification and degree programs.

“I see the public computer centers as the first step in the stepladder to success,” said Prather.

Prather plans to measure the success of the computer centers not just by grant-mandated guidelines, but by making the program sustainable. In addition to equipment and software, the grant will fund a total of four full-time staff, and 13-14 thousand-hour positions, including a mobile lab operator. Amanda Turner, who worked previously in payroll at MCC, is Prather’s administrative assistant and an integral part of the team.

NUS staff is currently assisting the public computer center team to upgrade the equipment in campus computer labs, including software, as well as working out logistics for the mobile lab which will feature laptop computers. One of Prather’s aims is to have a standard, consistent feel to the MCC public computer centers while incorporating the unique personality of each campus and its community into its computer center. Plans are underway to launch the centers on all MCC campuses this summer.

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