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Computer Science Students Learn Invaluable Lesson

March 7, 2011
SHSU Media Contact: Sara Thompson

Assistant professor of computer science Li-Jen Shannon and students from the department recently delivered refurbished equipment to Samuel W. Houston Elementary. They include (back row, from left), Jon Reioux, Dinah Loga and Shannon, with second grade teacher and technology liaison from Paula Foreman, as well as (front row, far right) Calvin Laws, with five of the second grade students. —Submitted photos

In a Huntsville elementary computer lab, Sam Houston State University junior Calvin Laws balanced his 6’2” frame on one of the lab’s child-sized chairs next to his newfound third grade friend and helped the boy access an online textbook.

Laws is a part of the small group of students from SHSU’s computer science department who volunteer their free time to refurbish discarded university equipment to donate to rural school districts.

On this day, the student volunteers were given the opportunity to personally deliver 21 Dell baby desktop computers to the school children of Huntsville Independent School District’s Samuel Houston Elementary campus.

For Laws, it was an unforgettable experience.

“I immediately knew that it would be an experience I’d always remember because the students felt that we were helping them in a big way,” said Laws.

When it was time to leave, the volunteers bent down to return the surge of hugs from the third grade class before returning to campus.

This sight was one of assistant professor Li-Jen Shannon’s fondest memories serving as the program’s faculty coordinator, she said.

Shannon began the program in 2003 after she discovered the large number of discarded computer systems stored in SHSU’s Property Department.

“In order to stay on top of the technology evolution, our Information Resource Department has a policy to rotate campus computers every four years,” said Shannon.

As a result, the equipment that was no longer compatible with the university’s current networking system was continuously delivered to the SHSU Property Department. There, the old systems would be stored until they were auctioned or shipped to Texas Department of Criminal Justice to be disassembled.

“When I saw all the discarded computers, I realized that some of them could still be salvaged, and I knew my students were the ones to do it,” said Shannon.

With approval from the director of the property department, Shannon filed the paperwork to transfer the units and brought the equipment to her classroom as a method of hands-on training for her students.

After weeks of hard work, students in the computer science department brought the old systems back to life. By sacrificing hours outside of the classroom, sometimes far into the evening, students worked together to install new parts and update systems.

According to Shannon, fixing the old units was an immediate hit with her students.
She continued bringing in the discarded equipment until every empty space in the lab was filled with products of the students’ work.

When trying to determine what to do with the equipment, Shannon said her own three young children helped her realize who would be the most deserving recipients of these new systems.

“I know that sometimes schools in rural areas cannot afford to provide students with anything but the bare minimum, and as a mother, I wanted to do something special for these children,” said Shannon.

CS major with elementary studentAfter her idea gained full support from the computer science department chair, Peter Cooper, she contacted local school districts to offer the refurbished units to use however they saw fit. According to Shannon, the feedback was staggering.

“I did not realize how badly these schools needed new technology,” said Shannon. “Some schools were using severely outdated computers, while others did not even have enough for all the students in a class.”

As of this spring, Shannon’s class, which was recently classified as an approved Academic Community Engagement course, has donated more than 100 refurbished units to five local school districts. Campuses in Shepherd, Livingston, Big Sandy, Hull-Daisetta, and Huntsville now have more equipment available to offer their students an improved learning environment.

The donated computers have made it possible for several campuses to launch brand new programs for their students, including a TEKS lab, a multimedia lab, and a first time keyboarding class for elementary-- through high school level-- students.

In the past, the Sam Houston Association of Computer Scientists has also become affiliated with the program. Members from the organization participate along with Shannon’s student volunteers in an attempt to double the efforts and donate more equipment in future semesters.

The program’s next anticipated project will be implementing a network and hardware service program with the school districts. The volunteers have also began working with a local church to rebuild their computers and network.

Shannon’s class has also been approved through the university to be an Academic Community Engagement course.

Despite the progress her program has made in the past eight years, Shannon said what she is proud of most is being able to help her students gain appreciation for their community.

“Through this program, I have realized the most important lessons are not always ones I can teach in classrooms,” said Shannon. “If my students can learn how to use their knowledge to benefit others, then I have taught them well.”

For more information on the program, or to find out how students and faculty can make a difference through their own courses, contact Shannon at 936.294.1582.


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