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Indiana University

Passionate about mission but short on IT funding, nonprofits benefit from IU's Serve IT

April 12, 2011
Bloomington, Indiana --

Youth in need of mentoring, an environment challenged by human impacts, victims of domestic violence, and families working to enrich the lives of their developmentally disabled loved ones: Four Bloomington nonprofits serving these impacted groups each received a boost over technology hurdles they faced thanks to a new IT clinic at Indiana University Bloomington's School of Informatics and Computing (SOIC).

Both student volunteers from SOIC's new Serve IT program and representatives from the four nonprofits -- Boys and Girls Clubs of Bloomington, Sycamore Land Trust, Middle Way House, and Christole Inc. -- will gather Wednesday (April 13) to socialize, review accomplishments from their pilot semester together, and do some visioning for the future.

Serve IT was designed by faculty at SOIC, with continuing support from the School of Public and Environmental Affairs and the Kelley School of Business, to provide Bloomington-area nonprofits with information technology services such as database development and website design in a sustained way that, through the clinic design scheme, can offer continuity from semester to semester and from student team to student team. Each nonprofit was paired with four or five student volunteers.

"My teammates and I are working with the Middle Way House to help improve their technology resources," said Lizzi Pomeroy, a Batesville, Ind., junior and informatics major. "We recently completed a Strategic IT Plan, which outlines the next steps we will take. Those steps include implementing a network storage system, developing a database, updating software like browsers, MS Office, and antivirus, and providing a plan for a technology budget."

Aspects of Serve IT that allow for a planning period followed by action items and opportunities for semester-to-semester continuity, something that many class-based service learning projects can't provide, resound with Chris Tann, unit director at Boys and Girls Clubs of Bloomington's Lincoln Street Club. In addition to the team of five student volunteers providing immediate assistance like security and networking upgrades, the club can now plan on a new website going live this fall.

"Without their involvement we would not have been able to do any of this because we don't have the financial resources to go out and hire people," Tann said.

The team at the Boys and Girls Clubs also networked 17 work stations used by kids to a primary server in the club computer lab, and once a week they offer a class for young members, ages 9 through 12, in using creative digital suites.

"The approach is always to do an initial round of planning with the nonprofit, out of which comes concrete actions which may extend into subsequent semesters," said Matt Hottell, director of the Serve IT nonprofit clinic and a senior lecturer at SOIC. "We announced the clinic to SOIC students last November and based on the response, which was tremendous, three times as many students as we could accommodate indicated an interest in Serve IT."

For Bethany Lister and her team working for Sycamore Land Trust, development of a new website and data base were seen as prominent needs for the nonprofit that works to protect pristine forest land in the region.

"Our team is developing a dynamic website and a client relationship management database for SLT," said Lister, a Bloomington graduate student at IU's School of Public and Environmental Affairs. "These new tools will give them the freedom to focus on their mission and not on their technology."

Serve IT volunteers, staff and nonprofit partner representatives will gather from 5:30-7:30 p.m. Wednesday at IU Informatics East to review academic posters outlining the students' efforts, to socialize and to plan for future activities. The clinic has been funded for its first two years by SOIC, after which a for-credit course associated with the clinic will provide tuition income. The clinic is also applying for grants, and to date has received $8,000 from the Community Foundation of Bloomington and another $20,000 from the Smithville Charitable Foundation.

"We intend to increase our capacity in future semesters," Hottell said of aiding more nonprofits. "Some clients will need substantial help beyond the initial semester, while others will move into a maintenance phase where we continue to provide support and advice but do not devote an entire project team to their needs."