October 15, 2010

Tech Dawgs offer free IT help to non-profit groups

by Christi Mathis

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- When you need help winding your way through the bewildering world of computers and related technology, who are you going to call?

Members of a new Registered Student Organization at Southern Illinois University Carbondale really know their stuff in that arena, but just having the know-how isn’t enough for the Tech Dawgs. They are willing and able to help any non-profit organization in the region with information technology needs.

Perhaps network security is a concern? If so, it may be Michael Buhman to the rescue. The junior information systems technologies major from Murphysboro focuses on network security and can help non-profits set up secure wireless networks, troubleshoot connectivity errors and perhaps even perform some risk assessments.

“I’m getting involved with the Tech Dawgs to be able to further my education in information systems while providing an invaluable service to the local community,” said Buhman. “While working with the Tech Dawgs, I’ll be getting real-world, on-the-job experience that I can’t get in the classroom. When I graduate and am looking for a position, potential employers will appreciate the kind of experience I’ll be gaining through Tech Dawgs.”

Ross Petty, a senior electrical system technologies major from Olney, said he’s interested in educating the public about computers and Internet security awareness and in helping improve computer networks for organizations. He said while helping others, he’ll gain experience in his career field and demonstrate to future employers that he was proactive during his college years.

As a non-traditional student, Nora Spittler, a senior information systems technologies major from Carbondale, said she relishes the chance to be more involved at the University and to connect with other students and local companies and organizations. She’s anxious to help those who have technology problems but who don’t necessarily have the know-how or the funds to handle.

Helping others is a habit for Gared Seats, a senior Okawville area information systems technologies major. He’s an Eagle Scout and has long enjoyed giving his time and energy wherever needed. He is interested in working as a Tech Dawg on any project, “especially if it will help others and I can learn something along the way.”

Michael Barry, a senior information systems technologies major concentrating on systems analysis and network security, is also a proponent of volunteerism. He has already helped the Science Center of Southern Illinois with website development. He suggested to Tom Imboden, assistant professor in the School of Information Systems and Applied Technologies and faculty adviser for the Tech Dawgs, that the newly formed RSO could provide invaluable assistance to many worthy organizations and groups. Barry said at the Science Center he saw the need for technology assistance and for updated equipment “in order to present to the local children a deeper understanding of computers and how they work, yet give them a fun learning experience at the same time.”

A native of Pawtucket, R.I., residing in Marion since 2004, Barry is president of the Tech Dawgs.

Although most members of the Tech Dawgs are information technologies majors, any student with an interest and technology knowledge is welcome to join, Imboden said. The group meets every other Tuesday in the Applied Sciences and Arts Building. The next meeting is from 5 to 6 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 19, in Room 204B. Already about 20 students have signed on as Tech Dawgs.

“When I heard that SIUC was forming a student organization that would let students utilize the knowledge that they have to help non-profit organizations with information technologies issues, I was immediately interested. It will give me a chance to give back to the community that I live in for the years that I attend school. This organization is giving me the chance to put into practice IT skills and face new and unique challenges that can only be encountered outside of the University environment,” said Phillip Bristow, a senior information systems technologies major from Fort Wayne, Ind.

“I look forward to helping organizations secure their environments, whether by updating and sanitizing computers or helping users understand the risks they’ll encounter in web applications and the malicious programs that can be inadvertently downloaded. I also look forward to meeting the people who are running the non-profits in the area and seeing how we, as students, can help make a difference,” Bristow added.

The Tech Dawgs can provide many types of assistance to not-for-profit groups and organizations, Imboden said.

“Since our students have different IT interests and skills, the types of projects they can help with are pretty expansive,” Imboden said. Security analysis and assessment, network setup, desktop troubleshooting, web design assistance, website development advisement and consulting, getting rid of malware and spyware, database development and consulting, setting up a wireless network and other helps are available from the Tech Dawgs.

In addition, they are accepting donations from businesses and individuals of relatively new computers and related equipment. They will refurbish the items and donate them to non-profit organizations. The Tech Dawgs are accepting monetary donations to cover costs for repurposing the technology equipment.

The Tech Dawgs want to share their expertise via training and workshop presentations too, and that’s something Darcie Cohee, a Danville junior transfer student in information systems technologies, is looking forward to.

“I am interested in teaching others, especially those with little or no technical knowledge. I know that a lot of people are intimidated by technology because they are afraid they’ll never understand it. That’s where I want to help! I know that anyone is capable of becoming more tech-savvy, but sometimes people just need to be in the right environment to learn,” Cohee said.

She’s hoping to teach workshops about basic Internet security or computer usage and she believes the task would be fascinating and “a great growth experience for me. It will help me to become more confident in my abilities because I’ll be able to learn new things. I also like interacting with and helping other people out so I think that it can even help improve my communication skills. The overall experience and lessons learned will be absolutely priceless for me and all involved,” Cohee said.

The Tech Dawgs’ webpage is still under construction but you can find out more about the group online at www.techdawgs.rso.siuc.edu or by e-mailing techdawgs@siu.edu. You can also contact Imboden at timboden@siu.edu or 618/453-7296 to make arrangements for the Tech Dawgs to help your non-profit organization or to donate good, usable technology equipment for repurposing to help others.