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VALLEY BUSINESS | Preparing Students for the Real World

Fast Track to Technology

West Hills DeVry Caters to Busy Students in Burgeoning Valley Marketplace

May 23, 2000|DAN GORDON | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

WEST HILLS — Last year at this time, Devin Berry was tending bar. Now, the 22-year-old Calabasas High School graduate is finishing his second semester at the DeVry Institute of Technology's newly opened West Hills campus and making plans for early retirement.

"I want to be hired by a company to be their sole computer guru," Berry said. But not for long. The computer information systems major is getting ready to roll out his own dot-com. He figures he'll put in a few years working for someone else, then strike out on his own. "I'd like to structure it so that my investments pay for themselves, and I'll be able to walk away from work and just play," he said.

While not all of them are buying property on Easy Street, most of Berry's DeVry classmates have little doubt that the skills they're learning at the technology-oriented campus will prove marketable. Their faith is borne out by employers in the San Fernando Valley's sizable high-tech manufacturing sector, who consistently complain to surveyors that they can't find enough skilled technical workers.

DeVry, which confers bachelor of science degrees in accounting, business administration, computer information systems, electronics engineering technology, technical management and telecommunications management, along with an associate degree in electronics, has arrived to help fill that niche.

Classes began last fall at the campus on Roscoe Boulevard, near Fallbrook Avenue, a 20-acre site formerly owned by Hughes Aircraft. The West Hills facility, which has 30 classrooms, a technical library, computer and electronics labs and common student areas, is DeVry's third in Southern California, joining Pomona and Long Beach. All told, DeVry operates 17 campuses in nine states and two Canadian provinces, serving more than 43,000 students.

Enrollment at the West Hills campus started at nearly 300 students and increased by 240 for the current spring semester. The total number of students is significantly lower than the 3,400 at the Pomona campus or the 2,600 at the Long Beach site, but DeVry expects the numbers to increase.

"DeVry won't come into an area unless they know they will strike a chord with both the people who are trying to get the high-tech jobs and the employers who are looking for individuals with the skills to fill those jobs," said Daniel Blake, a labor economist at Cal State Northridge.

Groundbreaking on the West Hills campus came at the perfect time for Brien Gauthier. Last summer, Gauthier, 35, was on medical leave from his job as head of the lumber department at Home Depot in Simi Valley, having suffered a herniated disk. Facing a career change, he already had begun looking into electronics when he stumbled upon the DeVry building while driving down Roscoe Boulevard.

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"I've already been offered a couple of jobs at $16.50-$17.50 an hour--all I have to do is finish my degree," said Gauthier, an electronics major. "I said, 'Wait a minute. First, at least let me figure out what the oscilloscope is for.' "

DeVry has many students who, like Gauthier, have returned to school after being in the workplace for a number of years. Others are simply looking to better their position in their current profession.

The institute caters to these students by giving them the option of taking morning, afternoon, evening or weekend classes so they can continue to work.

DeVry also has three 15-week semesters a year, putting full-time students on an accelerated track to complete their bachelor's degree in three years.

"My cousin has been at CSUN doing the same program as I am and he's been there for, like, five years," said Soraya Qassim, 21, a telecommunications management major.

But what really sold Qassim on DeVry was the experience of a friend, a telecommunications graduate who quickly climbed the ranks of a small business and has assured Qassim of a well-paying job at the company upon graduation.

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For Hannelore Apolista, a business administration student who previously attended Pierce College and worked as a bank teller, DeVry was attractive because of its proactive career services placement program.

DeVry assists students through its use of a national employer database, holds seminars and career fairs and emphasizes student internships with area companies, beginning in the third semester.

"At other places, you're on your own once you graduate," Apolista said. "Here, they really help you, and a lot of the people you talk to in industry are DeVry graduates themselves."

Telecommunications management and computer information systems have emerged as the school's most popular programs, said Iraj Borbor, a former engineering consultant and 16-year DeVry faculty member who now serves as dean of the West Hills campus.

The most striking change in the curriculum in recent years is that computers have become central in all of the programs, he said.

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