AVIANO AIR BASE, Italy — Brad Smith and Martin Vogel aren’t ready to go to work full time as computer network administrators.

After all, there’s high school to complete first. And, in Vogel’s case, that’s more than two years away.

But the two Aviano High School students recently proved they’re capable of running a small computer network, earning the Cisco Certified Network Associate designation. They’re believed to be the first students in the Department of Defense Dependents Schools system in Europe to achieve the designation.

“It was difficult,” said Smith, a senior who’s planning to enroll at Utah’s Brigham Young University in the fall.

But both students said their classes — part of a two-year elective program that DODDS devised with Cisco Systems Inc. — prepared them for the certification test, which they took in the Italian city of Mestre.

“We came in thinking that it was going to be harder than it was,” said Vogel, a sophomore.

Three classmates didn’t pass the test.

“I’m sure they’ll pass it on the second or third time,” Vogel said.

Teacher Mark Fix said he’s proud of the first group of students to emerge from the program at Aviano. They’ve taken four classes over as many semesters to prepare for the certification.

The curriculum is the same at all DODDS high schools. Currently, 21 schools offer the program and eight more are scheduled to begin the classes next school year. About 300 students are currently enrolled in the program.

“This is a way to give the kids real employment skills when they leave here,” Fix said. “There’s more and more demand for people who can design, install and manage networks.”

The certification, seen as an entry-level qualification for some computer networking jobs, “indicates a foundation in and apprentice knowledge of networking,” according to Cisco’s Web site.

That means that Smith and Vogel probably aren’t ready to take over all the duties of the 31st Communications Squadron at Aviano. But connecting a small group of computers at the school and maintaining the system is within reach.

While adults might spend hundreds of dollars taking the course and paying for the test, DODDS students in the program don’t pay. That doesn’t mean the students don’t spend a little time studying.

“I would recommend it, but only if [students] can handle it,” Vogel said, “because it’s a pretty hard class.”

“It’s not just a class to blow off,” Smith said.

He’s thinking about majoring in engineering at BYU, so the certification might not help him in his eventual career field. He’s thinking more of immediate gains.

“Hopefully, it’ll help me get a good part-time job to pay for school,” he said.

Fix said such jobs should be available in the States, because many smaller businesses need some help with their computer systems. And it often doesn’t require enough time to justify a full-time employee.

He said Cisco claims that those who choose to use their certificates to get jobs immediately might expect to earn as much as $65,000 a year in certain areas of the country.

“It’s a great backup plan,” Smith said.

And having some knowledge of computer networks, Smith knows a bit about backing things up.

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Kent has filled numerous roles at Stars and Stripes including: copy editor, news editor, desk editor, reporter/photographer, web editor and overseas sports editor. Based at Aviano Air Base, Italy, he’s been TDY to countries such as Afghanistan Iraq, Kosovo and Bosnia. Born in California, he’s a 1988 graduate of Humboldt State University and has been a journalist for 40 years.

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