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Department of Communications/
News Bureau
22 Davis Hall, 10 Lippitt Road, Kingston, RI 0288
Phone: 401-874-2116 Fax: 401-874-7872

URI program puts computers into hands
of disadvantaged students

KINGSTON, R.I. -- October 19, 2000 -- The University of Rhode Island has launched a program that puts computers into the hands of disadvantaged students.

Bridging the Digital Divide is a pilot program providing seven students enrolled in URI's Special Programs for Talent Development with recycled computers at no cost. In addition, the program incorporates a cross-cultural experience for the participants.

At the beginning of the fall semester, the students received recycled computers through this program. They will keep the units through the completion of their degrees and return them to the program for use by other students.

The Talent Development students now in the program have each been paired with a mentor from a different cultural group to foster cultural and ethnic learning and to gain valuable computer skills including word processing and internet use.

The mentors receive credits for their participation through a URI community service course that links computer skills with cultural sensitivity.

To keep the computer, Talent Development students must attend a weekly seminar, complete assignments, and meet with mentors and program advisers outside the classroom. Most importantly, the students become the mentors the following academic year.

The program developed out of a university planning session over the summer during which students, faculty and staff discussed a strong need to equip disadvantaged students with technology. This spawned Bridging the Digital Divide, a program headed by Graham Bell, the URI bookstore assistant administrator.

"While working on a no-interest installment payment program for computers, I realized that there were still a number of students that I couldn't reach," Bell said. "I wanted to develop a program that could fill that need."

Results from a survey conducted by Talent Development showed that only 32 percent of this year's freshman Talent Development students expected to bring a computer to URI versus 87 percent of the remaining freshman class.

The results got the attention of Gerald Williams, the director of Talent Development. "I was astounded by these statistics because the ability to compete in the current work force rests in grasping and possessing the necessary computer skills," Williams said. "Bridging the Digital Divide will provide this much needed training."

Shirley Consuegra, a specialist for the URI Feinstein Center for Service Learning, worked with Bell to add a cultural learning aspect to the program. Consuegra then collaborated with Mary Fetherston, the Language Learning Resource Center supervisor, Joan Peckham, a professor in the Computer Science Department and Lynn McGrath, a graduate assistant at the URI Multicultural Center, to establish the curriculum for the community service course.

Melvin Wade, the director of the URI Multicultural Center, appointed Lynn McGrath as the instructor for the course, and provided a computer lab for the program's weekly seminar.

Pamela Christman, manager of desktop computing for Information and Instructional Technology Services, also assisted Bell in the search for computers within the University. Christman stated that a program has been in place for more than three years to recycle computers removed from the University computer labs and put them in the hands of faculty and staff who either do not have computers or who are using outdated technology. Bridging the Digital Divide is the beginning of such a program for disadvantaged students and will require partnerships with external funding sources and vendors to obtain equipment.

Bell has already approached Apple & Dell for assistance and is also seeking government and other business support for the program.

The program will double in size for the spring semester, putting computers in the hands of 10 more students.

For Information: Dave Lavallee 401-874-2116, Keith Marshall 401-874-2116


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