CU-Boulder Bridges Digital Divide With 'Computers to Youth' Program

Ten students from Denver Public Schools will be on the University of Colorado at Boulder campus on Oct. 30 rebuilding computers with help from CU-Boulder student mentors.

The Computers to Youth program, coordinated by the CU Environmental Center, provides middle and high school students from low-income communities around Colorado with upgraded computers. Students bundle surplus computer components into an upgraded computer and load the latest software. At the end of the event, the middle and high school students take the computers home with them to assist with their academic achievement.

CU students from the statewide Mathematics Engineering Science Achievement, or MESA program, will provide on-site instruction and follow-up mentoring. All of the students from DPS also are in the MESA program.

"Since an important goal is to enhance high school students' academic skills to enable their enrollment at universities like CU, these CU student mentors also provide ongoing assistance and encouragement throughout the year," said Gale Day, MESA Center director at CU-Boulder. "For high school students who choose to enroll at CU-Boulder, the Office of Diversity, Equity and Community Engagement further supports the academic and personal success through academic retention programs like the CU LEAD Alliance."

The Computers to Youth program addresses two pressing issues: the growing amount of waste from computers and the "digital divide" -- the relative inaccessibility to computing and communication technology, according to Jack DeBell of CU's Environmental Center.

As technology increasingly becomes a part of daily life, those without computer access fall further and further behind. This consequence, known as the "digital divide," mainly affects under-privileged populations, especially youth, DeBell said. With such a great amount of computer equipment being discarded by a technologically advanced campus and community, it only makes sense that some of this equipment be restored and redistributed in an effort to bridge the divide.

"The Computers to Youth program provides students from underrepresented communities with educational tools and resources as well as contributing to protecting the environment and promoting overall sustainability," said CU-Boulder senior Andrea Zaragoza-Ballesteros, an international affairs major and diversity outreach coordinator at CU.

The Environmental Center has demonstrated success in this area, receiving funding from Dell for CU-Boulder's first computer roundup in 2005 when over 50 working systems were collected from the community over a three-day event, according to DeBell. In 2006, funding from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency allowed CU to expand efforts statewide. With this experience, CU can more fully facilitate connecting CU students with disadvantaged middle and high school students year-round.

"The fact that CU put together this program that saves resources, prevents waste and supports future scientists and engineers is completely brilliant," said CU-Boulder senior Rebecca Miller, a chemical engineering student and mentor.

In addition to CU's Property Services, Office of Diversity, Equity and Community Engagement and the Environmental Center, other important contributors to date include the CU Parents Association, Computers for Community, and the Microsoft Corporation.

"Hopefully, this project will create additional collaboration with community groups and corporate sponsors in Colorado," said Karen Hunter, MESA Coordinator with the St. Vrain School District, whose high school students were recent participants. "The students' new-found confidence as a result of the amazing folks at CU tells it all."

CU-Boulder's MESA Center is administered through the Department of Pre-College Outreach Services in the Office of Diversity, Equity and Community Engagement and is dedicated to promoting access to higher education among first-generation college students and underserved youth.

The Office of Diversity, Equity and Community Engagement and Colorado MESA are working in partnership to enhance the college preparation and interest of area high school students in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM. For more information, visit www.colorado.edu/cu-diversity.

Established in 1970, the CU Environmental Center assists with the educational mission of the university by providing information on environmental issues to students, faculty, staff, and the broader community, and provides students with experience in interdisciplinary environmental problem solving.

For more information about the CU Environmental Center, visit ecenter.colorado.edu, or contact DeBell at 303-492-8733 or debell@colorado.edu.

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