Computers to Damaged Schools

TREE Program Donates Recycled Computers to Smithville Schools
July 3, 2011 By Edwin Smith

OXFORD, Miss. – When a tornado ravaged Smithville on the afternoon of April 27, among the properties heavily damaged was the Smithville School campus. When students return in August, they’ll attend classes in 43 mobile trailers while the K-12 school is rebuilt.

The portable classrooms are a temporary measure, but the school will be outfitted with much-needed computers, thanks to the Technology Recycling to Enhance Education program at the University of Mississippi.

UM students and faculty members plan to deliver 24 computers to the Monroe County School District office in Amory at 10 a.m. Tuesday (July 5). The units were collected from across the Ole Miss campus, cleaned and refurbished for distribution to public K-12 schools. TREE previously provided computers for students at Water Valley and West Tallahatchie high schools.

“After hearing about the situation, our students all wanted to do something to help them rebuild their program,” said Dawn Wilkins, associate professor of computer and information science and faculty adviser of the UM chapter of the Association for Computing Machinery. “As it turned out, their technical person said even if they were able to salvage their own computers, they would still want our refurbished ones because they were newer than theirs. The whole thing was serendipitous.”

The UM Physical Plant Department is providing vans to transport the computers to their new home in Smithville.

“The university becomes involved with other communities whenever a disaster strikes in order to assist them in their own recovery efforts,” said Russ Buchholz, acting associate physical plant director. “When the request came for this particular effort, the response from our department was to provide the vans.”

Once UM students deliver the computers, they will be kept in a storage facility for distribution this fall, Wilkins said.

“Right now, all we have is the promise of land upon which to place the trailers temporarily while new construction is being built on the original school site,” said Alan Pearson, Monroe County School District technology director. “It could be a year or more before we have permanent facilities completed, but we’re going to use the computers wherever we can in the meantime.”

TREE is a joint effort among the Ole Miss ACM chapter, CIS faculty and the Office of Information Technology. The project was conceived by CIS faculty members, senior computer and information science major Brett Ladner and Scotty Polston, CIS network administrator. Its threefold goals are: to reduce the waste of usable electronic equipment at Ole Miss, to support education in the state and to provide ACM students with hands-on experience.

“TREE helps us to help other people,” said Robert DeCurtins, a native of Olive Branch and chapter vice president. “A lot of schools have outdated equipment. Quality equipment is very important. What we provide the schools is usually newer and better than what they have. It’s another way for us to give back to the community.”

Pamela B. Lawhead, retired CIS associate professor, said she is proud of the cooperative effort and is awed by the amount of work students are willing to invest in TREE.

“Computer science students have very rigorous schedules, and to see them going the extra mile to clean and refurbish these computers for public schools is simply amazing,” said Lawhead, who was also director of the university’s Institute for Advanced Education in Geospatial Sciences.

Wilkins agreed. “TREE is a zero-budget operation and is labor-intensive, but our students are determined and dedicated to use their time and skills doing something very few people can do,” she said.

ACM members have established a website, http://tree.olemiss.edu/, to help others learn about TREE. At the website, faculty, staff and departments can transfer computing equipment to be cleaned and refurbished. Public schools also can use the site to request the refurbished computers.

“TREE is just another opportunity for us to provide service, but this time we’re extending it to the entire state,” Ladner said.

For more information, email tree@olemiss.edu.