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Community Computers Project Brings Technology to an African Classroom

Working with MSOE and Alverno College, Whitefish Bay's Tracy Stockwell recently outfitted a computer lab in Cameroon with 30 refurbished computers, a printer, and a projector.

A Whitefish Bay woman is leading an initiative between Alverno College and the Milwaukee School of Engineering to provide computers to students in Cameroon.

Tracy Stockwell, Associate Professor of Professional Communication and Chair of the Communication & Technology Department at Alverno College, leads the initiative with colleague, professor Jill Moore, and MSOE students.

Members of MSOE’S Community Computers work with Alverno as well as non-profit organizations to provide computers to families, and organizations in need.  Community Computers has also worked across several continents and within the Milwaukee area to provide computers to schools.

The joint venture works on taking computers, refurbishing them, installing open-source (free) software, and donating them to schools in Cameroon that would otherwise not be able to afford them.

On their last trip to Cameroon they built and outfitted a computer lab at St. Joseph Comprehensive High School in Mambu, Bafut, Cameroon, which was founded and operated by the Tertiary Sisters of St. Francis.

“It was really exciting to bring the computers and install the lab and begin to train teachers and students," Stockwell said. "It was also very exciting to stabilize the internet."

The project involves providing schools with functional computers and educating beginning computer users on the basics.

The computer lab is comprised of 30 Ubuntu computers, a printer, and a projector. Instead of using Windows, Community Computers uses an Operating System called Ubuntu, (or Xubuntu) a free, open sourced community developed software.

“They are so appreciative because it’s free and the computers have all these cool things on it, whenever we go to Cameroon they see it and they just love it,” said Jeff Hanson, a member of MSOE’S Community Computers.

Because Community Computers uses Ubuntu, the organization is able to load the computers with educational software such as math, typing software and office tools for free.

The school and dormitories are guarded 24 hours a day and the lab is behind steel doors that are locked if a teacher is not present.

Soon after Stockwell and other volunteers left, thieves cut the power to the computer lab causing repairs to be needed.

“I was probably more upset about it than anyone there because they are sort of used to this kind of thing where it draws attention to the school because now they have this computer lab,” said Stockwell.

The volunteers faced intermittent problems with internet, electricity and transporting the computers to Cameroon.

Volunteers transported the computers, flash drives, keyboards, mice, mouse pads, power cords, and LCD monitors in duffel bags by checking them as their personal luggage.

After the volunteers leave, it is the schools responsibility to maintain the lab and the computers. However, Alverno College faculty will provide ongoing support to the school when needed.

Volunteers plan to return in May 2014 to install an additional lab at the high school and complete other projects.

For more information visit: facebook.com/projectcomcomp, or email hansonj@msoe.edu if interested in donating a computer. 

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