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posted: 5/14/2020 1:00 AM

Laptops: A lifeline for students impacted by COVID-19

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By Hilary Collins

As COVID-19 sweeps the world, most workplaces, non-essential businesses, and schools across Illinois have shuttered their doors, forcing workers and students to turn to their personal computers and home internet access to continue their assignments. The abrupt pivot to fully remote work and at-home learning is testing even those with the most up-to-date equipment. But what about those without computers at home?

That's an issue that many college students in accounting programs across the state are now facing. Some have always relied on computers at school or public libraries that are now closed. Others have laptops so old they can no longer run the accounting software required in today's classrooms. Some are struggling to complete assignments on the small screens of their smartphones just to get by. And many have just one home computer that is now being shared with family, including parents who need to use it for remote work and siblings who are also attempting to attend online classes.

"I was listening to the radio in the car and heard a story about how many Chicago-area students were really struggling with distance learning because they didn't have computers," says Deb Rood, CPA, immediate past chairperson of the CPA Endowment Fund of Illinois. "It made me think about all the scholars the endowment fund supports and that it's not just Chicago public schools shutting down--there's a real need for personal computers among all Illinois' college-level students."

Rood took that inspiration to her fellow board members at the CPA Endowment Fund of Illinois, the charitable arm of the Illinois CPA Society (ICPAS). An email to ICPAS student members inviting them to apply for one of five emergency laptop scholarships quickly followed. Within the hour, responses began rolling in; by the end of the week, more than 200 students had applied.

"We received an overwhelming flood of applications," Rood says. "Realizing the dire need, we increased funding and expanded our commitment to deliver 16 laptops to deserving students instead of five."

For these students, a new laptop could be the difference between passing and failing their classes. Many of the applicants noted that they had recently lost jobs because of the coronavirus pandemic, making it impossible for them to buy a laptop when they most need one. With so many new difficulties stemming from the pandemic and Illinois' statewide stay-at-home order, a laptop is a pragmatic way to help students overcome a major challenge.

"This laptop means the world to me, especially since all my classes are now online," says Noe Navarro, a student at Governors State University and one of the scholarship recipients. "I didn't have the ability to complete any of the assignments or even learn from my professors' lectures. Now I can learn from my instructors, pass my classes, and become an accountant."

The scholarship recipients noted that the laptops would not only help them succeed in their classes, but also enable them to begin crucial internship and job searches and make other important moves to launch their accounting careers.

"This is a great way the endowment fund has been able to live out its mission of supporting students who are struggling to keep up with the rising requirements of becoming a CPA," says Kari Natale, CAE, senior director of the CPA Endowment Fund of Illinois. "A laptop is a very tangible way we can make a difference in the lives of these students during a very difficult time. The COVID-19 pandemic has upended their semesters and, as much as possible, we want to make sure it doesn't upend their studies or their futures in the accounting profession."

For more information on participating in this initiative or donating a laptop, please contact Kari Natale at natalek@icpas.org.

• Reprinted courtesy of Insight, the magazine of the Illinois CPA Society.