The day UC Riverside suspended in-person classes to help flatten the Covid-19 pandemic curve, first-year computer science major Ervin Young knew the internet’s ability to connect isolated individuals would become crucial.
He also knew many students in his hometown school district in Pleasanton did not have the best equipment for remote learning success. So he sprang into action to get those students what they needed.
The district had supplied low-income students with Google Chromebooks, which are limited to web browsing only. This makes programming hard for computer science students and video editing difficult for video students, for example. Chromebooks also have a short life span, so Young thought a desktop PC that can be used and upgraded for many years would help both the students and the environment. He decided to build computers for these students.
A year ago, Young never would have imagined embarking on a project like this. Though he had long dreamed of working for Apple, he struggled in his AP computer science class in high school, so he thought about maybe going into marketing instead. Firm guidance from his parents, however, helped him hang onto his goal long enough to blossom in Bourns College of Engineering’s computer science classes.
Young built a prototype desktop computer with display and keyboard and determined that each one could be built for around $430 using quality components. He started a GoFundMe with a goal of $2,000 that has already been exceeded.
Paea LePendu, a computer science lecturer, taught Young last fall in an introductory course. When the shutdown happened, he reactivated a discussion board for all his classes since the fall quarter, so his 600-plus current and former students had a way to reach out to him and each other for help and information during the pandemic. He saw Young post a link to his project in one of the discussion channels.
“First year computer science students, who often have a long way to go before they can contribute sophisticated algorithms and software, often feel like they are not ready to contribute to the world,” LePendu said. “Part of my role is to help them see past those insecurities, to recognize they always have something to contribute. For Ervin to act creatively and put to such use the engineer’s natural ability to tinker and create is just plain awesome.”
The first prototype took three hours to build, organize, and configure. Young plans to build at least five more with the help of his brother’s high school computer club. The school district will distribute them to the students, who can keep permanently.
“Seeing the difficult state the entire world is currently in, I wanted to do anything I could for my community,” Young said. “No matter how small the effort, if we collectively act as a team to help each other during this crisis, a difference will be made — even if it’s one computer at a time.”
“I am so very proud of our UC Riverside students, who truly have that inner sense of community and belonging, and who think of helping others,” LePendu said.
Header photo: Shirley Lu