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Carolina is marking two decades of requiring undergraduates to have laptops.

Since UNC-Chapel Hill instituted that requirement in 2000, ITS’ Carolina Computing Initiative (CCI) has been helping students access laptops that meet University standards.

The CCI program launched three years in advance of the mandate to ensure that Carolina students, faculty and staff have easy access to high-quality and affordable technology and be able to use it effectively.

Michael Williams
Michael Williams

For these two decades, CCI has been promoting easy and equal access to technology in part through its laptop grant program. This grant provides first-year undergraduate students help with purchasing the CCI laptop package depending on their financial need. Students receiving financial aid from UNC-Chapel Hill are eligible for laptop grants that cover the full cost. CCI also offers laptop packages to all Carolina students at deeper discounts than standard educational pricing.

Remembering when

The CCI program has flourished, but when the University first started talking about requiring laptops, some people had their doubts.

Back in those days, Michael Williams served in the Student Body President’s cabinet, overseeing technology policy, and sat on the committees that formed the first CCI requirements and plan.

“At the time I personally considered it an unreasonable requirement. I thought it would push out students who couldn’t afford a laptop (as I could not),” said Williams, who has worked for the Information Security Office within ITS for a dozen years. He’s Network Security Team Lead and co-host of ISO’s Data @ Rest podcast.

“One perspective on it that shifted some of my thinking was the growing availability of cellphones and a professor who referred to computer labs on campus as ‘the phone booths of the internet,’” Williams said. “Realizing the same would happen with computing, sooner or later, and probably faster than we anticipated, helped me see the value of requiring laptops.”

Inspired IT career

Patrick Lewis
Patrick Lewis

Patrick Lewis, an ETL and Reporting Developer at ITS, received his first laptop via the CCI program in 2002.

Lewis said the access to the internet and technology from that first laptop inspired him to apply as a student employee at the ITS Response Center in the Undergraduate Library. That, in turn, led to his career at UNC-Chapel Hill, where he’s worked for 15 years.

“With that Thinkpad R31 laptop and internet, I felt empowered to learn and grow in a way that I did not before,” Lewis said.

60,000 students have benefitted

Since CCI began, more than 60,000 Carolina students have acquired the CCI laptop packages. The program not only benefits undergraduate students but faculty as well. Some 15,000 computers have been provided to faculty members in the College of Arts and Sciences alone.

Suzanne Cadwell
Suzanne Cadwell

Suzanne Cadwell, now Director of ITS Educational Technologies, was teaching as a grad student the year prior to the University wide laptop mandate for undergraduates. That year, 1999, ITS conducted a pilot program in which first-year students purchased CCI computers to use for their course work. Assigned to teach English to students in that pilot, Cadwell received a new CCI laptop. She also taught English during that first semester of the University-wide laptop requirement.

“I didn’t have ready access to a computer before then,” she said. “Waiting for a free computer in a lab was not only inconvenient, it was constraining in other ways. I felt that I simply couldn’t think and write as well on paper as I could with a computer. I had received special dispensation at my undergraduate institution to take final essay exams on a lab computer. It was thrilling to me — my students and I now had 24/7 access to a tool that allowed us to be better researchers, writers and thinkers.”

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