Teaching information communications and technology for the first time this past school year, Robin Perry learned her students could become Microsoft Office specialists.

All they had to do was study the Word, Excel and PowerPoint programs in a book, take tests on a computer and score at least 700 to be considered certified. The tests could be taken multiple times if students wanted to improve their scores or time.

Students also had an opportunity to be a state champion and qualify for a national competition.

Since it was new to Brownstown Central High School, Perry said she would have been happy to have a couple of certifications.

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To her delight, she wound up with 35 students certified by Microsoft in Word 2013, 24 in Excel 2013 and one in PowerPoint 2013.

Two students — Noah Greene and Austin Ault — were state champions and will compete in Certiport’s 2015 Microsoft Office Specialist U.S. National Championship June 18 to 20 at Buena Vista Palace Hotel and Spa in Orlando, Florida.

“I figured if we had one or two kids certify, the program was a success. I knew that the test was difficult, so I was happy if anyone certified,” Perry said. “For it to help so many kids out, I was extremely pleased with the program. That was a thrill for me.”

Brownstown was one of 89 Indiana schools participating in a pilot of the Microsoft IT Academy, a joint project of the Indiana Department of Education and Indiana Department of Workforce Development.

The partnership between the state agencies and Microsoft helped secondary students and adults obtain basic computer and productivity skills needed for many types of careers. Sixty-one WorkOne centers also were involved.

The pilot allowed the schools and centers to participate at no cost, made certifications available, gave schools “lab licenses” for Office 2010 or 2013 and provided professional development for teachers.

Once she received approval from the school administration for the program, Perry attended training for a couple of days in November.

Getting started

In February, Brownstown students began using the book and online materials and working on projects. Once they felt comfortable with all the material, they began testing through the Certiport software.

As students tested, Perry wrote scores on the chalkboard, starting with 400. They began scoring so high that she went all the way up to 1,000.

Students had 50 minutes to complete each test, and it was different every time.

With Word, Greene garnered a perfect score at least five times and got his time down to 6 minutes, 21 seconds. He was the state champion in Word 2013.

“I had taken the test multiple times at that point,” said Greene, who recently finished his junior year. “I knew I could get a perfect score, but I was working on my time. There are two different types of tests that we can take on Word, and I had taken them both before, so I knew kind of what I was doing, and I knew where to go and what to do.”

Much to learn

Greene said he learned a lot of new things about Word.

“It’s a lot more customizable than I expected,” he said. “You can make a lot of different stuff with Word, ranging from brochures, fliers, anything you want; and you can make everything look good with it and make everything look really professional. I made my résumé on Word, and I was told it looks good.”

Greene also earned certification in Excel, taking it twice with a high score of 924.

Ault, who also wrapped up his junior year, was the state champion in Excel, scoring 984 after about 15 minutes of work. He said he had taken the test 10 times and scored 700 or higher each time.

“I knew a lot about it because I’ve used it before,” Ault said of Excel. “(The test) was difficult at the start, but as I kept going, it got easier.”

Ault also is certified in PowerPoint and Word, scoring 937 and 947, respectively.

Both students said they were happy to win a state title.

“I wasn’t expecting it. I was surprised,” Ault said.

Greene said, “I figured I would do all right, but I didn’t think I would be getting a perfect score and going to Florida. I didn’t expect any of that to happen.”

Nationals await

For winning a state title, Greene and Ault each received a Microsoft Surface tablet and travel sponsorship. At the national competition, they will have more opportunities to test, with the winners representing the United States at the world championship Aug. 9 to 12 in Dallas.

Greene and Ault both said they are excited to go to Florida and see how they compare against winners from other states.

They expect that experience, along with taking the dual-credit information communications and technology class offered through Ivy Tech Community College and earning certifications, to help them with future careers.

“Since many companies (use the three Microsoft programs), I would probably get a job really fast,” Ault said. “Since I want to go to college for computer technology and science, it will obviously help there.”

Greene said he plans to study engineering, and taking the class to learn more about Excel and Word could help him land a job in that field.

“If I was ever asked to create a document or something for a business, I know I could do it because the perfect score just tells me that I know what I’m doing,” he said. “If they wanted me to do something on the computer in Microsoft Word 2013 that they needed, I know I could do it.”

Job opportunities

Perry said the certifications help the students be that much more employable. According to microsoft.com, a certification can earn an entry-level business employee as much as $16,000 more in annual salary than uncertified peers.

“If I’m hiring someone and I have two candidates that are pretty much equal and one person is certified in Word, Excel or PowerPoint, I’m going to choose them because I know I don’t have to train them in that and they’ve seen the program,” she said.

Being certified by Microsoft in its product is quite an accomplishment, Perry added.

“Noah had said he didn’t know he was really good at anything, and I think now, he has found that he’s pretty good,” she said. “So I hope they gain experience in the travel. I hope they gain confidence that they are good at something, and I hope that they gain employment with this.”

On the Web

For information about the Microsoft IT Academy, visit microsoftitacademy.com.

For information about becoming a Microsoft Office specialist, visit microsoft.com/learning/en-us/mos-certification.aspx.

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Zach Spicer is a reporter for The (Seymour) Tribune. He can be reached at zspicer@tribtown.com or 812-523-7080.