Oak Hills HS Students Custom-Build Their Own Computer Lab
When the STEM-minded educators at Oak Hills High School in Hesperia, Calif. wanted students to get hands-on with professional AutoCAD and video production software, the system requirements outpaced their current PCs. They needed to overhaul the computer lab.
Instead of dialing up a vendor to install brand-new workstations, tech-ed faculty ordered computer parts and components that students themselves assembled. Building a workstation PC costs less than buying pre-built. Incorporating it into student coursework? That’s a proper lesson in DIY efficiency.
Computer building has always been a course requirement for IT Essentials class at Oak Hills, part of Cisco Networking Academy curriculum designed for students to pursue professional networking certifications before high school graduation. Many schools have students break down old computers and put them back together to meet the requirement.
“My focus is to mirror the industry,” says IT instructor Mark Smith. “An IT technician will be working on older computers to fix them; however, when a client wants a new computer built they want new parts.” OHHS went the extra mile this year and did a lot of both.
Build week: the fastest five days of the year
Working in groups of three or four, students assemble the PCs in a week of class time—about three hours total with pack-up time—and worked on the same computer each period. “The vast majority had zero prior experience,” Smith explains about students entering IT Essentials. They take apart old PCs down to the motherboards as primer for putting new computers together.
In Smiths’ three classes, groups of students completed 14 new workstations within the week. “Days went by very fast,” Smith says. Floating among the groups answering questions and directing students to parts manuals, the pace becomes frenetic at times. “Each group had to have me around for CPU installation which provided one on one time to go over safety and other key points.”
Smith also teaches the Internet Engineering I course—the next-level class for network management pupils—these students are finishing assembly for an additional 30 workstations. They conducted PC builds last year and take a more assembly line approach, cementing last year’s skills to muscle memory. “I have to throw props to my advanced class,” Smith says, impressed with their professional approach to the process of building out the new lab PCs.
Administrative support and funding for the project
Mr. Smith is quick to recognize that support from school administrators—namely Principal Michael Capps and Assistant Principal Matthew Johnson—catalyzed the CAD lab build project. “They asked if my class would be interested in building these and I jumped at the opportunity,” he says. It isn’t difficult to understand why administration felt confident the program would be in good hands.
As a side business, Smith repairs and builds custom PCs—something he’s done since the Windows 95 era of computers. He has used Newegg almost exclusively for computer parts during the past ten years, he told HardBoiled.
Building for the future with powerful computer parts
Leveraging a state industry pathway grant allowed Oak Hills to build for quality and longevity, reflected in the components selected for the PCs. It was the difference between installing AMD FX-6300 and Haswell Intel Core i5 processors—sufficient for the short term—and the current generation Skylake Intel Core i7 and AMD FX-8350 chips that Smith opted for the computers, which will give the PCs more shelf life.
Decisions like installing 16 GB of system memory makes sense if thinking a few years ahead of current technology. The hard drive was the toughest decision: “I would normally put in a 1 TB HDD purely for space, however I opted for a 500 GB SSD,” Smith says. “It’s easy to drop in a mechanical drive later.”
“That was one major factor in this build—the ability to upgrade,” Smith adds. “Unlike buying from a big vendor, custom computers provide much easier upgrade paths.”
How did NeweggBusiness help the project come together?
Assembling 44 workstations in two week window of class time presents a number of fulfillment challenges that NeweggBusiness account executives specialize in solving. For the Oak Hills CAD lab, Smith worked with AE Stacey Jouglet, a K-12 procurement specialist, to navigate the fulfillment—quote approval, processing required documents for the grant, and orchestrating inventory shipments from several warehouses to arrive in a neat and timely manner.
When a delayed less-than-truckload freight truck wrinkled the timeline for delivery, Jouglet established constant contact with the third party carrier, providing updates several times a day to the customer until delivery. “She is prompt to respond to questions, and always there to go to bat for us and get things resolved,” Smith says. “Stacey is an amazing sales service representative.”
“When things like that happen I pick up the phone and make it right,” Jouglet says. “My priority is keeping customers updated and in the loop in every regard—they tend to appreciate that.”
Read more about how NeweggBusiness helps schools that build PCs.