As a second-year pursuing a degree in civil engineering, Matthew Thomas knew that he would encounter certain difficulties as a student. However, the outbreak of COVID-19 was something that Matthew could never have anticipated. “I feel like I’m on summer vacation,” he laughs bitterly, his dismay evident even over the grainy Zoom footage. “When you dorm, they give you a desk to work on. But now I have to do homework on my bed.”
To make matters worse, as the University of California, Irvine (UCI) transitioned to a fully-remote learning environment, Matthew’s laptop gave out on him. During the Fall and Winter Quarters, when campus life was still going on as usual, Matthew would have been able to cope with the loss. As a frequent visitor of the Samueli School of Engineering’s computer labs, he could access the technology he needed to complete his coursework. However, this was no longer an option, and he was struggling to find a solution.
Fortunately, he received an email invitation to the Student Equipment Loan Program in the nick of time. A partnership between the Office of Information Technology (OIT) and Student Success Initiatives (SSI), the Student Equipment Loan Program to Support Remote Learning was designed to offer free equipment loans to students who do not have access to key remote learning tools. The program initially offered laptop loans to students who were low-income, based in Southern California, and without access to the technology necessary to support online exam proctoring. As more laptops became available, the program expanded to include first-generation students before opening up to UCI’s full student body.
“Ensuring that our students had the means to learn and work remotely was our highest priority.” Kevin Huie, Executive Director of SSI said.”Our OIT team’s efforts were outstanding. They moved quickly and efficiently to identify students in need, secure the equipment, and distribute them in an effective and safe way with the help of the SSI team.”
During his time at UCI, Matthew had taken advantage of some of the student programs offered by SSI’s Gateway Initiative, a central resource for low-income, first-generation students to help them succeed academically and professionally. It was through this affiliation that he learned about the Student Equipment Loan Program.
He recalls receiving the email to join the program before instruction for his Spring classes began. With his broken laptop weighing heavy on his mind, he decided to take advantage of the free loaner laptop. During the first week of Spring Quarter, Matthew was able to head to the SSI office and pick up his laptop. Estimating that the process took about 10 minutes from start to finish, he also notes that the staff handling the distribution process was taking appropriate social distancing measures. “The workers were all wearing gloves and there were only two people in the whole office,” he recounts, “Usually, there is a room full of people.”
Matthew also explains that he had heard about SSI offering hotspots to students in need. While he does not plan to access this loan, he expresses his appreciation that the option is available. “That’s great,” he states, nodding for emphasis, “That will really help out a lot of people.”
In this new remote learning environment, students need access to the right tools in order to adapt. Speaking about his laptop loan, Matthew emphasizes, “Without this, I wouldn’t be able to do anything right now.”
The COVID-19 crisis was never something that Matthew could have planned for. However, having access to the necessary technology and online learning resources empowers him to make the most of the situation. While Matthew’s academic journey is certainly complicated by the global pandemic, he has the support and resources to overcome the unexpected.