February 12, 2014
When Basheer Mohamed was in his sophomore year in high school at the Fred N. Thomas Career Education Center Middle College of Denver, he started participating in Computers to Youth, a CU Environmental Center program that provides middle and high school students from low-income communities around Colorado with upgraded computers and basic computing programs. Mentors with the program teach participants how to use the computers and software.
"As a participant in the Computers to Youth program, I learned a lot about how computers work-not only about software and how computers work but how the hardware works too," Mohamed said. "It was a huge spark in the interest of technology for me."
Mohamed is now a first-year open option engineering student at CU-Boulder. He plans to major in chemical and biological engineering or mechanical engineering. Mohamed said the Computers to Youth program was one of the factors that led to his decision to pursue an engineering degree.
"I came out really eager to learn more about computers," Mohamed said. "It was really beneficial to me and my family because it taught me how to build a computer and I wouldn't have been able to do that. It definitely sparked my interest in engineering."
Youth who participate in the program each build an upgraded computer that they use to supplement their education at home. On-site instruction and follow-up mentoring is provided by CU students from the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Community Engagement and the state-wide MESA program (Mathematics Engineering Science Achievement).
These CU student mentors provide ongoing assistance and encouragement throughout the year. An important goal is to enhance the middle and high schools students' academic skills to enable their enrollment at Universities like CU.
Mohamed now works as one of these mentors, teaching middle school and high school students how to use and build computers. He began mentoring in Fall 2013 and plans to continue.
In 2005, Dell funded CU's first computer round-up where over 50 working systems were collected from the community within the three day event. Then, in 2006, EPA funding allowed CU to expand its efforts statewide. Last year, CU teamed up internally to provide a new level of student-lead service.
With this experience, CU can more fully develop the educational experience of connecting CU students with disadvantaged middle and high school students.
The program will be expanding in 2014 with support from a number of campus departments and private sources.
Two pressing issues will be addressed through the program: the growing amount of waste from computers and the "digital divide" (the relative inaccessibility to computing and communication technology).
This project is unique in that it connects CU's commitment to diversity with its experience protecting the environment. It is designed to help the public understand that these two efforts can complement one another.
The CU Environmental Center's newly-expanded mission strengthens this link between environmental preservation and social equity. Important contributors to date include CU's Property Service, CU Parents Association, and the Microsoft Corporation. It is hoped this project will create additional collaboration with community groups and corporate sponsors in Colorado.