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DMACC to open new virtual learning lab for students

Des Moines Area Community College (DMACC) will unveil a new, cutting-edge Virtual Learning Lab at the Microsoft Datacenter Academy located on its West Des Moines Campus on March 11, during Celebrate! Innovation Live

The new lab incorporates state-of-the-art virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) technologies, providing students with an opportunity to navigate within the large, complex and highly secured data centers located throughout Central Iowa via a simulated environment.

In 2018, the DMACC West Campus was selected to house the first Microsoft Datacenter Academy in the Midwest and only the fourth such academy in the nation. The academy provides students with training in infrastructure cabling, fiber optic testing, computer network connectivity and cybersecurity. Microsoft is providing approximately $30,000 in funding support for Phase I of the new Virtual Learning Lab’s production.

“The Microsoft Datacenter Academy on the DMACC West Campus is an incredible training resource, and the new Virtual Learning Lab will offer a one-of-a-kind learning experience for our students,” said Jay Nickelson, Professor of Network Technology and Telecommunications at the DMACC West Campus. “The lab truly represents the future in higher education as it will help students perform tasks in a safe, virtual reality setting as they prepare for in-demand careers in large, corporate data centers.”

Nickelson said DMACC receives numerous requests every week from national, regional and local technology companies that are looking to hire graduates with data center skills.

The new Virtual Learning Lab will include approximately 200 server racks, and is designed to incorporate the high-security and biometric controls that many real-world data centers use, including retinal scanners and key-card entry. The lab will simulate the type and style of work many data center technicians do every day. Students will be able to practice solutions in a “game type” mode by using virtual reality headsets and a virtual tablet to read work-order tickets and navigate the large virtual reality data center.

The lab will be used by students in the DMACC Network Technology and Telecommunications program, as well as students in all DMACC Information Technology classes on the College’s West Campus.

DMACC to open new virtual learning lab for students | Clay & Milk
A central Iowa ag-tech accelerator has secured more backers and finally has a name. The Greater Des Moines Partnership first announced the accelerator last year, naming four initial investors. On Monday, the Partnership said the program will be called the "Iowa AgriTech Accelerator" and named three new investors. The new investors include Grinnell Mutual, Kent Corp. and Sukup Manufacturing, all Iowa companies. They join investors Deere & Co., Peoples Co., Farmers Mutual Hail Insurance Co. and DuPont Pioneer. Each investor has agreed to put up $100,000 for the first year of the accelerator. Startups entering the program will receive $40,000 in seed funding in exchange for 6 percent equity. Tej Dhawan, an angel investor and local startup mentor, is serving as interim director until the AgriTech Accelerator names a permanent leader. Dhawan held a similar role with the GIA before Brian Hemesath was named as managing director. As interim director, Dhawan said his main job includes hiring the accelerator's executive director, establishing a business structure and initial recruiting for the first cohort. The accelerator will place few filters, such as location and product, on the applicant pool, Dhawan said. "When you’re seeking innovation, innovation can come from every corner of the world so why restrict ourselves," he said. One area the the AgriTech Accelerator won't recruit from is biotech. For its first cohort, the AgriTech Accelerator will work out of the GIA's space in Des Moines' East Village, Dhawan said. A future, permanent home is still to be decided. The accelerator's program will host startups from mid-July through mid-October, ending with an event connected to the annual World Food Prize. The GIA, which the AgriTech Accelerator is based on, also ends with presentations at an industry event. The accelerator has also started lining up a mentor pool. The Iowa Corn Growers Association, Iowa Soybean Association and the Iowa Pork Producers Association have agreed to provide mentors, as has Iowa State University. While the AgriTech Accelerator is loosely based off of the GIA, it will differ in its business structure, Dhawan said. The GIA runs through a for-profit model for both operations and its investment fund. The AgriTech Accelerator will have a nonprofit model for its operations and a for-profit setup for its fund. Dhawan said the nonprofit model is being used so the accelerator can better work with other nonprofit partners, such as trade associations. "These are all organizations that are nonprofits and can be amazing stakeholders without ever having to be investors in the accelerator," he said. "It becomes easier to work with trade associations in their nonprofit role when we are also a nonprofit." When it's up and running, the AgriTech Accelerator would be one of a handful of ag-focused startup development programs in Iowa. Others include the Ag Startup Engine out of Iowa State University and the Rural Ventures Alliance from Iowa MicroLoan. Matthew Patane is the managing editor and co-founder of Clay & Milk. Send him an email at
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