WEST WINDSOR – Today’s Mercer County Community College (MCCC) students, like students everywhere, find themselves in a constant crunch for time: juggling classes, studying, working, family, and community obligations – not to mention extracurricular school activities.
And when a student faces financial challenges and doesn’t have a computer at home, time management can prove to be particularly daunting when trying to work in a daily visit to the MCCC computer lab to complete classroom assignments.
“People assume everyone has a computer at home, and that’s simply not the case,” said Dr. Diane Campbell, MCCC Vice President for Student Affairs. “If you rely on the college computer lab, you have to leave when the lab closes, and there still might be work that needs to be done. Students need the support and the tools for success.”
Enter TDI Connect (formerly the Trenton Digital Initiative), a volunteer organization that is part of United Way of Greater Mercer County. TDI refurbishes and upgrades older donated computers, and distributes them in collaboration with area schools and community organizations.
In addition, TDI, through a partnership with Comcast’s Internet Essentials program, can offer qualifying individuals high-speed internet access for only $9.95 a month.
“Our goal is to help our students have a better educational experience,” said MCCC President Dr. Jianping Wang. “We know there is a technology gap involving some of our students, and this program helps address that. By having the tools they need to succeed, our students can improve their academic achievement and complete their program at Mercer sooner, thus allowing them to pursue career and life goals.”
Qualifying for the program is relatively simple: students must have a grade point average of at least 2.0 and demonstrate financial need. Campbell said that when she sent an email to the student community announcing the program and the first distribution of 20 computers, she received 125 responses.
“We know the need is there,” Campbell said.
To date, 50 Mercer students have received computers through the TDI program. A student receiving one of the first computers, Sheri Sprouse, is in the Medical Office Assistant program at MCCC’s James Kerney Campus in Trenton. As a busy mother, Sprouse said finding time to take care of family – and then arranging child care during a trip to the computer lab or to use a friend or family member’s computer – left time for little else.
“It’s definitely more convenient having a computer at home, especially when you have kids,” Sprouse said.
Jenny Diachenko, a Business major, is an international student who said she simply did not have the financial resources to have a computer at home. Having access to the technology she needs for her studies, she said, will allow her more time to focus on class projects and not be constrained by computer lab hours.
“This will be an unbelievable help in my studies,” Dianchenko said. “Now I will be able to do more work from home, instead of the library. I’ll be able to put in the extra hours.”
Mark Iorio, chair of the TDI Advisory Board, said that is exactly the aim of the organization – that is, bridging the technology gap by putting computers in the hands of those who need them the most.
“Our partnership with Mercer County Community College provides students with a computer, and will aid in their success throughout their college careers,” Iorio said. “This program has positively impacted the lives of dozens of MCCC students, and we are delighted to work alongside Dr. Wang, the administration, and the faculty.”
As part of the partnership with TDI, MCCC has donated hundreds of computers following an upgrade of desktop units and computer labs throughout the college’s West Windsor and Trenton campuses. Those computers will be refurbished, upgraded, and eventually distributed to future MCCC students and other community members.
“TDI is faced with four areas of interest: supply, distribution, volunteers, and fundraising,” Iorio said. “Our partnership with Mercer County Community College has greatly reduced our need for supply, donating more than 800 computers to TDI. We are grateful for the gift.”