Academic Community Engagement, Psychology, Physics & Astronomy, School of Science

Refurbishing old computers so they can be used again is an excellent project for those interested in learning about software and coding. 

To that end, Siena has offered a computer workshop on Free Libre Open Source Software (FLOSS) as part of its on-campus Urban Scholars academic year program and STEM summer camps. This year it went on the road to the non-profit Connect Center for Youth in Cohoes.

Siena has had an existing partnership with the Connect Center through the College’s Office of Academic Community Engagement, which saw there was a need for STEM education for Cohoes kids. During the week of July 19, five Siena AmeriCorps students ran the FLOSS Desktops for Kids workshop for students ages nine through 13 to pilot the program at the Connect Center. They showed the campers how to take apart an outdated computer, put it back together with the necessary hardware updates and then download new software so they could take home a new operational system with internet access.

Michele McColgan, Ph.D., associate professor of physics, and Megan Kelly, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychology, are conducting research to measure student engagement at the Cohoes camp. 

McColgan said the Cohoes City School District is able to supply only one Chromebook per family, which made online learning during the pandemic a challenge for families with more than one school-aged child. The 19 students who took part in Siena’s FLOSS camp now have an extra computer at home to help their families. 

“There was a wide range of computer experience among the students – from none to lots – but none of them had really ever worked on something like this, so it was a new challenge for everyone,” said McColgan. “The beauty of this project is that students learn about a lot of different aspects of computers.”

“We’re studying how the kids connected with their peers, mentors and leaders and how that level of engagement may have changed over the course of the sessions,” explained Kelly. “The student mentors were terrific – they worked like Energizer bunnies, constantly asking what more they could do to help.” 

Brandon Smith '21 helped behind the scenes at getting some of the tech and workstations up and running and also taught FLOSS. 

“I thought the program went very smoothly and the kids got a great learning experience out of it,” said Smith. “I was surprised with how fast I made connections with some of the kids, and the value of the skills that they were learning was very clear.”

“The students loved the camp and we saw that based on their engagement,” said Sarah Ahmed-Weidman ’23. “They were excited to come and interact with us and learn more about FLOSS. One of the students said to us, ‘This is better than school!’ and that has stayed with me.”

Click here for a three-minute video about the FLOSS camp.