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April 14. 2014 6:54PM

STEAM Ahead

At presentation at Manchester firm Dyn, middle schoolers learn STEAM Ahead could lead to cool career


John Zahr gives a tour of the Dyn headquarters to students from Parkside Middle School in Manchester at the STEAM Ahead NH (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) Academy event on Monday. The academy begins in the fall at Manchester West. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)

MANCHESTER — “Cool” was the operative word Monday morning at Dyn, an Amoskeag Millyard based Internet company, where Parkside Middle School eighth-graders were being wooed for a new educational program designed to prepare teens for the 21st global economy.

“Definitely,” Hunter Brown said when asked if he planned to enroll in the pilot program STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) Ahead NH, which is to debut in the fall at Manchester High School West. He said he is into computers and would like to work on repairing files, kind of like Dyn's Chris Baker, whose title is Doomsayer As A Service.

Baker told about 200 eighth graders — most from Parkside and some from Southside — that his job is to try and figure out how to break computer systems to identify potential risks.

“It looks like it would be a really fun job here,” Brown said. He enjoyed listening to the presentation, which included brief remarks from Gov. Maggie Hassan, former Gov. John Lynch, former Manchester Mayor Robert Baines, who is also a former West principal, Dyn CEO Jeremy Hitchcock, Jeff McPherson, director of agency development of SilverTech Inc., another Manchester high-technology company, Manchester School District Superintendent Debra Livingston and current West Principal Christopher Motika.

But it was the “really awesome rock wall” that got Brown's attention with “the most awesome” being “the NERF gun fights.” Dyn employees blow off steam by heading to the weight room, battling with the toy guns or with an indoor game of basketball feet from their desks. Dyn would rather employees do that then take their frustrations out on customers.

Dyn is anything but the typical work place. Ali Rafieymehr was dean of the University of New Hampshire at Manchester when Dyn recruited him to be its education dean. He said the company's philosophy is that employees work hard but play hard, too.

Rafieymehr, in giving some of the students a tour of the company where he's now worked for four months, said, “Let me tell you how cool it is.” Each employee received two gifts for the holidays, he said, one was a $70 bag for their laptops and the other was a FitBit for the wrist.

“That's cool,” several of the teens agreed when Rafieymehr told them employees get free lunch on Tuesdays and a free membership to Gold's Gym.

Dyn, through traffic DNS (domain name system) management and email delivery, connects people through the Internet, ensuring information gets where it needs to go, fast and reliably. Headed by Hitchcock, a 2000 graduate of West, Dyn's clients include Twitter, Etsy, Yelp and Pandora, to name a few.

Founded in 2001, the company has 40 West high alumni among its 300 employees, and is always on the lookout for well-trained workers.

“We're looking for the next talent pool,” Hitchcock told the eighth graders.

And that's where STEAM Ahead NH comes into play.

In the fall, 75 eighth graders will be accepted into the four-year pilot program to be headquartered at West. Students will take college courses and intern at various companies, including Dyn and SilverTech. At the end of four years, the students will have completed a full year of college at no expense to themselves or their families and will enter college as sophomores.

The goal is to focus specifically on computer technology, engineering and the allied health field and performing arts, and then get students out of the traditional classroom to put what they've learned into action.

Students with science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) skills are expected to drive economic development in the future, educator, business leaders and politicians agree. STEAM added arts to the mix as a way to get young people to think creatively as well.

A lottery will come into play if more than 75 students apply to the academy. Any student can apply to be in the academy — the application can be found on West's website — but educators say students should have a genuine interest in one of the STEAM areas.

Three girls heading out to get onto buses to take them back to Parkside all said they had no interest in the program. But Ian Pare said he was going to sign up because he liked how Dyn gives employees the freedom to work the way they want.

Steam Academy is a collaboration between the Manchester School District, the University System of New Hampshire, Manchester Community College and the business community, including Dyn and SilverTech.

pgrossmith@unionleader.com


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