Wed, Mar 07, 2018

Cincinnati Graduate Dreams of Opening a Youth Tech Café

Deris Pennington is a family man. As the oldest of his three kids starts to look ahead to his high school graduation, Deris is thinking a lot about the example he sets for his children. They know him as a bit of an egg-head, a Jeopardy fan who knows something about everything, a responsible dad who is always up for helping with homework, and a stalwart coach whose enthusiasm and energy has guided their basketball teams since they were little.

Deris finished second in his class in high school, but family obligations prevented him from completing his degree in a joint program at North Carolina Central University and Georgia Tech. “I was looking for an opportunity to show my kids a level of commitment. I wanted them to see me work toward a new goal and finish something” says Deris, as he considers the motivations that led him to take the IT Support course at Per Scholas in Cincinnati. “Getting my A+ certification while also taking an entrepreneurship course at Xavier University was a lot of work. I was studying side-by-side with my kids, and it was important for them to see that I had an idea, a vision of what I wanted, and that I was seeing it through.”

Deris had spent years in jobs that he calls “tech adjacent”. Working as a project coordinator at a community health center, he led an effort to modernize the way that patient data collection helped to deliver care, and he convinced the health center to bring in social workers to help overlooked populations access services. Later, in the mobile telecommunications field, Deris managed 36 service desk representatives at a company that handles bulk wireless accounts for corporate clients. Still, as Deris looked to save enough for his family’s future, he felt that earning a certification was the missing rung on the ladder to reaching the next level in the tech field. When he found himself back on the job market, a Per Scholas flyer at a job fair helped him to see a path forward.

“Juggling class every day with my family life was definitely a challenge.” Says Deris. “At my age, my personal CPU already has so much going on, between the kids doing sports, my youngest daughter taking ballet, and juggling all of their schedules with my wife. I had to be driven to get through Per Scholas.” Deris was up to the challenge. He was voted class president and finished his IT Support course as valedictorian, which he couldn't have achieved without the support of his wife, Patrice.

After graduation, Deris found a job as a contractor with  TEKSystems, a Per Scholas Signature Partner, working on an Internet Security team for an insurance group. It’s challenging work, and he says that the knowledge he gained at Per Scholas is helping him to expand his role on the team. He also has his sights set on the future. Deris is making plans to open a “Youth Tech Café”.

“I think of it as a place where kids can start to learn technology skills before they are old enough to come to Per Scholas. It’s not just a simulator where kids can fix computers, it’s also a place where they can do their homework, hang out after school, and have access to technology.”

Deris thinks of the Youth Tech Café as an extension of his years of coaching experience, and his role as a father. As a coach and a dad, he has always had the leadership skills and smarts to inspire kids at home and on the basketball court. Now he has the tech knowledge he needs to teach kids about new pathways for building futures of their own.

Deris Pennington delivering his Valedictorian Address at Per Scholas Graduation. Seated from left to right: Wayne Ivy, Paul Cashen, Aaron Mingo, Dave Lapham, and Mary Beth Molloy.
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