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WITC student places fourth in national competition

Timothy Grabrian, a Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College-New Richmond student from Hammond, recently placed fourth in the nation at the Cisco Networking Academy competition.

A home-schooled high school graduate, Grabrian is set to graduate WITC in May with an associate degree in Information Technology-Network Specialist.

"I'm a typical geek," he jokes.

Jeff Heathman, WITC's IT-Network Specialist instructor, said the NetRiders competition is an annual contest hosted by Cisco, the predominant name in computer networking. This was the first time WITC-New Richmond students participated.

Heathman encouraged his students to take part in the NetRiders competition. The grand prize was an all-expense paid trip to San Jose, Calif., in January to tour Cisco headquarters, Stanford University, and various sites of interest in Silicon Valley. Only the top four in the nation could win the trip, along with winners from other global countries.

Grabrian and his classmates started the process in October. Separated into three rounds, the competition continued for Grabrian as he passed the first round in late October. He started with about 700 competitors, which whittled to 18 in the state of Wisconsin, and then to 44 in the national competition. The end of round one actually saw seven WITC students out of the 18 Wisconsin competitors qualified to move on to the second round. Each round of successive difficulty included two parts: one part an online test of timed questions, the second part a set of 10 questions that involved a virtual computer network challenge inside Cisco's "Packet Tracer."

"I always felt confident going into each round, having studied a lot for the tests. While taking the tests, there were many questions I just knew," Grabrian explains, "but many I could only make an educated guess. There was always a moment of hesitation before I submitted my answers. Did I do as well as I felt I did? I then had to wait anxiously for the results to be posted."

Grabrian's scores in the first two rounds placed him number one in the state. He then competed nationally (which also included several Canadian provinces) in the third round.

The final pitted the contestants on the same date, during the exact same time frame, in a proctored test. The results were immediate, and soon Grabrian and Heathman had to grasp the fact that WITC's Grabrian ranked number four.

"As they were counting down from 10, I remember being concerned around seven or six when I had not seen my name. Either I had done poorly or had done really well," Grabrian says. "I was stunned when I saw I had taken fourth place. I remember having to read the message on the screen multiple times before it began to sink in. Jeff gave me a high five and then he said 'Dude, you're going to California!'

"I think at the time, Jeff was more excited than I was because I was still trying to process everything. What I do remember is that all of a sudden Nancy (WITC academic dean, trade and technology, IT, Telecommunication and automation) and Joe (Huftel, WITC campus administrator) were in the room congratulating me. I felt honored that they were so proud me."

In early January, Grabrian boarded an airplane for San Jose, Calif. His itinerary was packed with visits to local tourist attractions, and tours of the network giant, Cisco.

"My first reaction to Cisco's headquarters was amazement," Grabrian says. "It's not so much one building but many, something like 48 buildings, spread across a large campus. Everything Cisco does is done on a large scale.

"During our first tour in one of their datacenters, I was blown away by the size of the room and the amount of equipment in it. We then walked through a hallway and into another section of the datacenter which was even larger than the first," Grabrian says.

Back on campus at WITC, Grabrian is finishing his final semester. Along with a full credit load, he works as an IT team resource at a local company and tutors students in his free time.