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The following article was written by Coleman Patterson and appeared in the Business section of the Abilene Reporter-News.

Yes, Napoleon, you have to have skills, November 25, 2D.

The 2004 film “Napoleon Dynamite” swept the country and created a cult-like following.  The movie’s main character, Napoleon Dynamite, is a high school super-nerd who, in one scene, becomes distraught when he learns that his friend Pedro has a date for the high school dance and he does not.  In his despair, Napoleon tells Pedro that he has little hope for finding a girl because he does not “have any good skills.”  When Pedro asks him what he means by that, he replies: “You know, like nunchuku skills, bow hunting skills, computer hacking skills…Girls only want boyfriends who have great skills.”  Possessing great skills, in Napoleon’s mind, would make him attractive to others.

Skills are also important for prospective and current employees to possess.   Communication, problem-solving, leadership, and teamwork skills can help make employees attractive to organizations.  Technology and computer skills are becoming more and more important in today’s workplace—in fact, word processing, e-mail, and Internet browsing skills are necessities in many positions and occupations.   One extremely powerful, yet often overlooked and underutilized software program is the spreadsheet program.  Microsoft Excel is probably the most widely used and available spreadsheet program around today.  Although its abilities to integrate with other Microsoft programs, like PowerPoint and Word, makes Excel useful to know, its true power comes from its ability to automate intricate and sometimes complex quantitative relationships among many variables.  Spreadsheets can be used to perform mathematical calculations like ordinary calculators; however, when spreadsheets are constructed using equations instead of raw data, they can be much more powerful and useful than a simple calculator.  By relating variables in a spreadsheet to each other through formulas, functions, and equations, spreadsheet programs can be used to easily run “what if” and probabilistic scenarios—which are very useful for forecasting and decision making.

 Using Excel, I can easily determine the grades that my students need to earn on their final assignments for various final grades in the course.  By creating spreadsheet programs that link all of the variables together through equations, I am able to analyze how a change in a grade on any assignment during the semester affects the final grades.  I can also easily tell students the exact grades that they need on a final paper to earn any grade in the course.  Once the formulas are written in a spreadsheet, they can easily be copied to other cells in the spreadsheet.  The additional work to calculate “what if” grade scenarios for dozens or hundreds of students is not much more than for a single student.  Entering the raw grades for the students is the most time consuming part of the process.

Spreadsheet skills have become essential in many organizations.  To help your students, colleagues, or coworkers develop these critical skills, the HSU SIFE team has developed a mobile computer lab that can come to your organization to teach spreadsheet and other basic computer skills.  If you would like information on how to schedule on-site spreadsheet training, visit our website at www.hsusife.com.

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2006, 2007, 2008  Coleman Patterson, All Rights Reserved