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CS Experts Aid Needy

CommuniTech Aims to Bridge Digital Divide

By Jing-Helen Tang

CommuniTech, a service group that explores ways to bridge the digital divide and help the community, held an yesterday evening to recruit new members.

The group actively takes part in a national effort to provide access to the latest technology to the needy. Activities range from teaching disadvantaged families to refurbishing computers. The group also sends student volunteers to various health centers and non-profit organization to help with their computer systems.

Group aids disadvantaged

CommuniTech carries out three main projects: Families Accessing Computer Technology (FACT), CONNECT, and MIT Used Computer Factory (UCF).

FACT targets low-income families and provides them with basic computer instruction. Topics for tutorials include opening files, using a computer to surf the Internet, and even writing complaint letters.

CONNECT pairs students with schools and organizations, either to teach children about computers or help with database and web site developments.

UCF gathers donated computers, refurbishes them, and redistributes them to needy families.

Club calls ‘Course 6ers who care’

Over a dozen students responded to the club’s call for “Course 6ers Who Care” by attending last night’s meeting.

“I wanted to do something useful. In class, I don’t really get to apply things right away,” said Linda X. Hue ’03, a Course VI (Electrical Engineering and Computer Science) major.

Although the meeting was aimed primarily at Course VI students, Izzat N. Jarudi ’04, a Course IX (Brain and Cognitive Science) major also attended the meeting after finding out about CommuniTech from the Public Service Center. “I was interested in finding more about it,” he said.

Students who have participated in CommuniTech recalled positive experiences. Pius A. Uzamere II ’04 described his participation in FACT last year as “very rewarding. The family was very willing to learn about everything.”

CommuniTech hopes to pool MIT’s resources to help the community of greater Boston. “We are more concerned about making real impact on the families and helping the volunteers getting a satisfying volunteering experience” than about any specific long term goals, said Bryan P. Adams G, CommuniTech’s founder.

Mission has expanded

“It hasn’t been what I expected,” Adams said. “It was much harder, the confluence of problems on three levels: family, volunteers, and the administration.”

Adams started the group with two Harvard students in January 2000. Originally, it was centered around computer hardware collection and distribution. Since then, the organization has expanded its scope to include teaching and development as well.

People of different socioeconomic classes and residents of rural areas are sometimes given unequal access to technology, particularly Internet access. According to U.S. Department of Commerce’s Falling Through the Net report, the Internet access rate is 38.9 percent for rural residents, only 19.2 percent for families in the lowest income bracket (with annual incomes of less than $15,000), and less than 25 percent for African and Hispanic Americans.