Some of the students involved with the program suggested to IBM that they should run a mainframe contest. The contest was in three phases. The first was to do some very simple things with ISPF (the GUI for mainframes). I have not touched a mainframe for ten years, but was trained up in the heyday, and I could have completed it with no difficulty. The prize was a "Master the Mainframe" T-shirt which was won by hundreds of students across 85 universities in North America. The intent of the first phase was to raise awareness and interest in the mainframe.
The second and third stages were more difficult and culminated with starting and using DB2 and CICS environments. Very near the end was a JES initiator problem, when a student asked a question about this they got the reply "Congratulations for reaching Task 17 of the contest! The tasks get increasingly difficult as you progress through them. You are working on resolving a problem that came from z/OS system support software testing. It took two experienced technicians several hours to resolve this problem. Use the knowledge you have gained to this point to continue to explore the z/OS system and see if you too can resolve the problem." I am fairly certain that would have defeated me!
The top five winners received a laptop and, wait for it....
A three day trip to the Poughkeepsie mainframe laboratories. Those of us who have been there might not see it as a great prize but it did give the students a better idea of the importance of the environment and some introduction to possible employers. Two of the finalists will be starting with IBM this summer.
The students came away with the view that mainframes are cool, not just because they are powerful and versatile but, more importantly, they offer good job prospects.