Tech Leaders Launch Organization To Provide Underserved Students With Free Laptops, Internet Connection

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Think Systems Inc., a management, consulting firm that focuses on small and mid-market companies that need help with organizational solutions and strategic hiring announced a collaboration with a group of technology leaders to establish high-speed internet access and provide free laptops to students in Baltimore City.

The goal is to help students continue their education at home while schools remain closed.Known as DigiBmore, the group isactively soliciting corporations and individuals for used laptops, notebooks and tablets that will be refurbished, wiped clean, and delivered to students in underserved areas of Baltimore who are out of school because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Baltimore City schools closed March 16 and, with the new shelter in place guidelines, will not be returning to school anytime soon.

“The DigiBmore working collaborative was formed on March 15 with a Facebook post pointing out the impact of the digital divide on students in underserved communities such as Baltimore,” said Ed Mullin, the vice president, and chief information officer at Think Systems, Inc. “We had our first Google Hangouts meeting on March 20, and since then, we have collected over 35 devices, with another 50 promised in the near term.”

From the devices collected, four have been distributed to students, with another 20 ready to go.

“So far, we have been using our personal networks to obtain donations. Our goal is to collect over 1,000, which would serve a significant portion of the students in need,” Mullin added. “To meet this goal, we will need public visibility on the initiative to reach a wider audience in hopes of increasing the number of device donations we are receiving daily. So all in all, it’s going pretty well, we have some momentum and expect it will continue to pick up.”

Mullin, who is also executive director of the Baltimore Robotics Center says DigiBmore would use the center’s 1001 W. Pratt Street headquarters as a community anchor to build a WIFI Mesh Network and initially connect residents who live in South Baltimore. The high-speed Internet access coverage area will extend to a four to five block radius.

DigiBmore founders include Adam Bouhmad, Founder Project Waves & Assistant Director of Technology at Digital Harbor Foundation; Andrew Coy, Executive Director at Digital Harbor Foundation; Jonathan Moore, Founder & CEO of RowdyOrb.it, and McKeever “Mac” Conwell, Portfolio Manager and Deal Team Coordinator for Maryland Technology Development Corporation (TEDCO).

“This is a critical moment where we all have to pull together to help bridge the digital divide in our city,” said Tony Gruebl, President of Think. “Today, every student needs access to the internet and to a device that will allow them to connect with teachers and subject matter even during a national crisis. There is no reason to stop learning, not even in a pandemic.”

The students served by the initiative already suffer achievement gap, and a vast disparity in access to Internet services and personal digital connected devices. The educational disruption caused by the current pandemic only amplifies the digital divide experienced in these communities, according to Mullin.

“Educational inequalities are unfair, primarily because the economic status of a child is beyond their control, it becomes an inequality of opportunity,” Mullin added. “This issue has always been critical, but the DigiBmore working collaborative has brought organizations dedicated to serving the needs of the underserved together to pull esources and work more quickly in addressing the issue head-on.

“There are thousands of underserved children in the communities we are looking to help, mass visibility of this initiative is what is needed to connect the haves with the have nots in attempt to lessen the gap.”

While the group was only formed recently, Mullin says many of the partner organizations had conducted similar outreach.

For example, the Digital Harbor Foundation offers a host of youth and educator programs focused on technology and making, as well as providing the Tech Center space where youth can experience hands-on, real-world, learning opportunities.

The Baltimore Robotics Center works to connect underserved youth with STEM programs like competitive robotics, 3D printing, coding, and making, along with facilitating internships and creating pathways to stable STEM careers. RowdyOrb.it leverages broadband infrastructure, spurring economic development and community revitalization, from the ground up.

“We are a group of technology professionals passionate about serving the underserved in creating an opportunity that was lost by a child’s economic status,” Mullin said. “This shared passion has driven us to create DigiBmore, which focuses on providing equitable access for underserved communities.

“This access is not just limited too high-speed internet it’s inclusive of connected devices, reducing educational disparities, removing socio-economic redlining determinants, while greatly increasing unbiased growth opportunities within resource deprived Baltimore City zip codes.”