Local partners help Durham Tech students access technology during COVID-19

pile of laptops on the floorSeveral community organizations partnered with Durham Tech in recent weeks to help students get access to technology needed for classwork.

After Stay-At-Home orders began across the state in mid-March, Durham Tech created a new form for students with technology needs. Hundreds have been helped through the collaboration between the College and community partners.

Kramden Institute, Triangle E-Cycling, and the Coastal Credit Union Foundation, made it possible for Durham Tech to provide 215 laptops to students in need.

“The fact is that these students did not sign up for online classes and are trying their best to complete them while also facing loss of income, layoffs, COVID-19 anxieties, and new roles with their K-12 kids or younger siblings,” said Erin Riney, Director of Student Engagement at Durham Tech. “We were very fortunate to find willing community partners and timely donations to remove a barrier and stress with no strings attached or hoops to jump through.”

Since the College resumed remote instruction on March 30, more than 94 percent of curriculum classes have been transitioned to online.

Desiree White, a current Durham Tech student, said she didn’t know what she would’ve done without this support.

“I’m so thankful for the laptop. Otherwise I would’ve tried to do all my classwork on my phone,” White said. “I don’t have a job now because of the coronavirus and I have other bills to pay so I could not afford to buy a laptop. Durham Tech is definitely looking out for students, and I’m so appreciative.”

Kramden Institute and Triangle E-Cycling are both non-profit organizations that refurbish used computers and give them to individuals and families in need. Kramden provided Durham Tech with 175 laptops at a largely discounted price and Triangle E-Cycling provided 40 laptops, also significantly reduced.

“I am so overwhelmed and grateful. This means more than you know. I was so worried about how I was going to complete this course because I need a laptop in order to get my nursing degree. I can't believe it.” - Anonymous Student

“I am so glad that our team could help these students the best way we know how to,” said Alex Thomas, Director of Tech Operations at Triangle E-Cycling. “The last thing any student or parent should have to worry about right now is whether or not they will be able to do their classes due to not having safe computer access while social distancing.”

A generous grant from the Coastal Credit Union Foundation and emergency funds from the Durham Tech Foundation were used to offset the cost of all laptops and shipping. Additional technology items were also purchased, including keyboards, headsets, webcams, power cords, and Microsoft Office 365 software.

“Thanks to the timely support of community partners like Coastal Credit Union, the Durham Tech Foundation has been able to provide immediate help to our highest need students,” said Melissa Chappell, Executive Director of the Durham Tech Foundation.

Riney said students were surprised to hear they will not have to return the laptops after the COVID-19 period ends.

“We are giving these laptops to students as an investment in their continued education and success,” Riney said. “They’ve put in eight weeks of hard work, and we don’t want them to lose that or their momentum. Our students are the College, and their success is our success.”

“You’re going to make me cry. I thought I was going to have withdraw. This is so helpful.” - Anonymous Student

Riney added that cross-department collaboration within the College also played a large role.

“Library technicians were calling students to verify mailing addresses, financial aid personnel assisted with verifying criteria, and an Equity and Inclusion staff member helped secure donations and process applications,” she said. “It was truly a college-wide effort to serve our high-need students.”

Maggie West, Coordinator of Student Wellness and Basic Needs at Durham Tech, also played a crucial role in connecting students to resources. Her position was funded by the Bank of America Neighborhood Builders grant, which was awarded to Durham Tech in November.

“This newly developed position could not have started at a better time,” Riney said. “Maggie immediately utilized her extensive community connections to get a critical program up and running in no time, and all during only her second week of work at Durham Tech.”

pile of laptops in back of carNearly 300 students have submitted requests for technology since March 15, so there is still a need to be met. The Durham Tech Foundation continues to cultivate new and current donors to find more funding and laptops.

Durham Tech is also providing other assistance like food and virtual counseling services.

The Foundation has purchased 115 Food Lion gift cards, which provided hunger relief to 102 households to date.

To make a donation to the Emergency Financial Assistance or Food Pantry fund, please visit the Durham Tech Foundation.