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At South Meck, a fourth E2D lab shows how students help students help students

When E2D opened its fourth computer laboratory in Mecklenburg County, it faced the kind of challenging problem that’s both painful and joyful to solve.

E2D – it stands for Eliminate the Digital Divide – was sorting through the critical step of identifying students at South Mecklenburg High School who would take on the task of inspecting, cleaning, refurbishing, and re-imaging laptop computers for distribution to students and families who need them.

“We put out the news that we were going to hire 10 students for this lab and we got 252 applications from this high school,” said Pat Millen, E2D executive director. “It’s insane. We had to funnel that down from 252 applications to interview 25, and that was really hard. These students are the best of the best of the best.”

South Meck is E2D’s third high school lab. The others are at West Charlotte and Garinger, and the non-profit’s original, headquarters lab is in Cornelius, where students from Hough and North Meck high schools serve as technicians. As they refurbish laptops prior to distribution, students in these labs learn new skills in technology, diagnosis, process flow, and problem-solving. They’re taught by Al Suddeth, an engineer who volunteered to help E2D after a career at Duke Energy. Suddeth has multiple degrees in electrical and mechanical engineering from Georgia Tech and the University of South Carolina, and students are bound to learn by osmosis, if nothing else.

Millen calls it a perfect ecosystem of students helping students helping students.

“This is just one response of what needs to be a lot of responses for Charlotte to become the great city that it’s going to become, and I’m confident this is going to happen,” Millen said at a Feb. 28, 2018, ribbon-cutting ceremony for the South Meck lab. “We’re just a small part, but an important part, because education and career and college readiness have been outlined as critically important for the success of students these days.”

As they interviewed potential students at South Meck, the E2D and South Meck team was most impressed by candidates who recognized how important the work was to the community – beyond realizing how the experience would build their resume.

E2D ended up hiring 11 students, one of whom is Sara Gaviria, a freshman. Her first lessons were focused on laptop computers and software re-imaging processes, but after two weeks on the job, Sara recognized the value of teamwork.

“We’re always, always helping each other and even though we haven’t really met each other before this job, we act like we were friends from forever,” Sara said. “Before I came here I lived in Colombia, and it’s a place where there’s a lot of poverty. I really wanted to help out, but I didn’t really know how. Until this opportunity came to help people over here, which is awesome. And I really wanted to help, because that’s my purpose – helping other people out.”

To open the program in the spring semester 2018, Sara’s principal, Dr. Maureen Furr, worked quickly with E2D, re-purposing an old cafeteria kitchen into an airy, light, spacious lab. The entrance is a cheery blue door.

“I’m very impressed that these are confident students and they’re very capable, but they also have great big hearts, and they’re in this both to learn and to serve,” Dr. Furr said. “I think that’s a wonderful thing, and it makes me very proud.”

Photo and video above: South Mecklenburg High School students and faculty celebrate the ribbon-cutting of the school’s new E2D computer refurbishing lab with Dr. Maureen Furr, principal.