An AIDS Project Worcester staffer and a client spend an hour working on an intake form, and the computer freezes, losing all the data.
Or an APW staffer spends hours writing a report to state health officials, only to have the computer crash, again losing all the work.
Enter WPI students Ryan Fawthrop, Edward Murphy and Matt Blakeman and their 2012 Interactive Qualifying Project, an assessment of information technology needs at AIDS Project Worcester.
Based largely on the students’ analysis and report, APW recently received a $5,000 grant from the Fred Harris Daniels Foundation, money that will allow the agency to begin upgrading its computer network and enable staffers to better serve clients.
“These young men are such a testament to not only the great morals that their parents taught them, but also the community involvement that WPI encourages,” wrote Martha Akstin, APW’s director of community relations, to Corey Dehner, director of the WPI-sponsored Worcester Community Project Center.
AIDS Project Worcester, the second largest AIDS Service Organization in New England, has been providing services to clients with AIDS or HIV since 1987. Murphy said the students chose the project because it presented the best opportunity for them to help the Worcester community.
According to Fawthrop, APW relied on used, dated hardware that had been donated to the agency. Only four of its 30 desktop computers were newer than five years old, and the entire office shared a single DSL connection that slowed work to a crawl.
Besides determining the need for new computers and a faster Internet connection, the students held staff training. They conducted sessions on various software programs available to staffers, and developed self-help manuals and video guides for them. Fawthrop, Murphy and Blakeman also helped with the grant writing and, now that money is coming, volunteered to return to APW to install the new computers, even though their project is long since completed. The agency will buy seven or eight computers, initially.
Dehner said the Worcester Community Project Center, established in 2000, has been rebranded to add the subtitle Center for Community Empowerment and Environmental Responsibility. Students are learning that government support and grassroots efforts are both needed to make positive change.
Dehner’s mantra for students is “Go above and beyond” by focusing less on grades and more on community involvement and impact, a philosophy Fawthrop, Murphy and Blakeman enthusiastically embraced for their project.
Such work enables students to use their knowledge for social good and to better reflect on their place in the world, according to Dehner.
“I’m really, really proud of these guys,” she said.
During the course of the project, the students often put in six- to eight-hour days at AIDS Project Worcester. “This time flew though, and we looked forward to coming in every day,” Fawthrop said.
“To me, this project was my best college experience so far,” he said. “We got to meet a group of wonderful and accepting people, along with helping out those in need. It was very rewarding to see how much these people appreciated our help. I continue to be very good friends with the employees of APW, and am eager to help them whenever I can.”
Added Murphy: “This project gave me a greater appreciation for what APW does for the community, and I am proud to be involved in a project where there is a direct impact on the community.”