Some Northern Virginia families will have free laptops in time for classes this fall, thanks to an enterprising group of George Mason University information technology students.
The students—seniors Judy Yang, Dennis Amoah, and Sital Luitel—have been refurbishing more than 20 used laptops, donated through the Virginia Student Training and Refurbishment Program (VA STAR), and preparing them for their new owners.
On Saturday, August 13, the laptops were given to representatives from the Arlington nonprofits Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing, American Legion Post 139, Bridges to Independence, Doorways, and PathForward, who will place them with their new owners.
The program, which is sponsored by Mason’s Institute for Digital Innovation and the Institute for a Sustainable Earth, was started by Yang, who has been doing this kind of work since elementary school. She began working on computers through the GEMS (Girls Excelling in Math and Science) Club while attending Herndon Elementary School and never stopped. She has wanted to establish a VA STAR group at Mason since she was a freshman.
Yang’s favorite part of the computer repair work is the opportunity to give back to the community.
She said she hopes that the laptops also provide some stress relief for recipients, acknowledging that many families struggle to pay for technology.
Yang and her colleagues have been working on the laptops in the Mason Innovation Exchange (MIX) makerspace in Horizon Hall, which has the tools they require and space to work.
Luitel was new to computer repair work and said she “learned a ton” while working with the VA STAR group. “It is a very gratifying experience to be able to help others while also bettering my own skills and learning more about the technology field,” she said.
Amoah said he joined the program because he wanted to learn more about computer repair. “I thought it would be cool to learn how to fix my own computers and replace any broken parts whenever it breaks,” he said.
He was surprised at how many computers the three of them were able refurbish.
Yang plans to continue the program in the fall semester and hopes to recruit more volunteers to work on the donated laptops.
Volunteers can gain a hands-on experience with computers, and the opportunity can expose them to concepts that could come in handy as they prepare for their careers, Yang said. And students don’t need to be information technology majors to participate in the program.
Niki Vlastara, an assistant professor of marketing in Mason’s School of Business, served as a mentor to VA STAR group, and Toni Andrews, senior associate director in the university’s Office of Community and Local Government Relations, helped connect them with area nonprofits interested in placing the laptops.
“Mason students are passionate about using their skills to give back to others, and this is just one of several efforts to build strong ties with the Arlington community,” said Kamaljeet Sanghera, IDIA executive director. “We are excited and looking forward to many more initiatives in the coming years.”