Hispanics get free computer lessons

By Lisa Rich
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Monday, October 18, 2004

Two hundred Hispanic Tucson residents received free training for basic computer skills Saturday in the fourth annual La Familia event promoting computer education for the home and workplace.

Organized by the UA chapter of the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers and IBM computers, the event was intended to break the "digital divide" separating Hispanic youth from older generations in areas of computer technology, said Steven Carrillo, systems engineering junior and vice president of SHPE's La Familia committee.

Carrillo said SHPE sent fliers to businesses and schools in the Flowing Wells school district, advertising the training program and encouraging residents to call SHPE to pre-register for the event.

Classes began at 9 a.m. Saturday and participants were divided into groups determined by their English language abilities. Once in class, SHPE and IBM volunteers instructed 10 to 35 participants in English or Spanish, on how to operate a Windows-based computer.

"The computer is something new for me and I want to learn what I can," said Gloria Quihuis, Tucson Unified School District employee.

"We run into the computers everywhere we go. ... We can't be afraid to get in there and learn."

In addition to learning basic skills for Microsoft Word, Microsoft Excel and the Internet, participants were taught how to set up and use an e-mail account from free servers such as Hotmail or Yahoo!, Carrillo said.

"Younger generations have more exposure to computers than older generations," Carrillo said. "A lot of times the older generation doesn't have access or know how to operate a computer. ... It is important to show them they're not too old to get involved."

Wanda Ronquillo, network storage manager at IBM and La Familia event coordinator, said La Familia is part of IBM's mentor program and diversity network group.

When she began working at IBM, one of her personal missions was to reach out to the university and establish a growing relationship with SHPE, Ronquillo said. Since then, IBM has developed the program "Partnering with IBM in Education" where the company and SHPE combine efforts to offer educational opportunities to the community, Ronquillo said.

IBM donated $3,500 to fund La Familia, which allowed SHPE to rent computer labs in the Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering building and purchase computer software, T-shirts, banners and food.

A total of 35 SHPE members and 20 IBM employees volunteered to teach and assist 165 adults and 35 grade school students.

"We're learning a lot of stuff that I have never used before ... that can also help me with my job," said Fred Valenzuela, Tucson resident and high voltage technician for the city of Tucson. "If I learn enough, I hope to get a personal computer for myself."

Victor Siordia, SHPE volunteer and mechanical engineering senior, said he volunteered because he enjoys giving back to the Tucson community.

"We're teaching them basic skills, and it's a lot of fun because they are so appreciative and receptive," Siordia said.

At the closing ceremony, five personal computers donated from Raytheon Missile Systems were raffled off, along with two instructional software packages about the setup of the keyboard and learning how to type.

"I wasn't expecting so much," said Celida Valenzuela, one of the five computer winners. "I'm very happy for the opportunity we haven't had before."