Ian Wallace has been interested in electronics since he was 5 years old. His father also tinkered with computers and would share his passion with his son. Those influences fostered Ian’s love for computers. He received his first Dell machine when he was 10 and a few years later began learning how to build his own.

“I thought that was the coolest thing ever,” Ian says. “I wanted to share that same joy and experience with others.”

And that’s why the 16-year-old Life Scout of Troop 1523 of Annandale, Va., decided to build computers for his Eagle Scout service project. But who should benefit from this project?

The right fit

Ian asked around and was directed to another high school in his school district. At Annandale High School, more than half of students are eligible for free and reduced meals. And more than a quarter of students receive services from the school’s English as a Second Language Department.

He chose to create the computer construction workshop for some of those English-learning students, specifically the ones whose families recently immigrated to the U.S.

First, he needed old computers and computer parts. He asked big box stores but received no help. He placed an advertisement in his neighborhood newsletter. After three months, he had received 30 donations, almost half of which were desktop computers.

“My room was turning into a computer landfill,” Ian says. “It was fun for me.”

Some computers were more than 25 years old. He took apart laptops, salvaged hard drives and paired parts to create computer packages, complete with monitors, keyboards, mice and cables.

Helping students

Ian met with ESL teacher Meredith Hedrick, describing his project and how he could present it to her class. He penned instructions, which ESL instructors translated into Spanish. Students in her class were from Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Sierra Leone. After consulting with Hedrick, Ian decided to instruct the students on how to build their own computers from the donations he collected.

With the help of teachers, Scouts from his troop, some middle-school students and translators, Ian led a three-and-a-half-hour workshop.

“Some of the kids are still learning to speak English, but it all just flowed,” Hedrick says. “When people are new to the country, they go through a process of getting used to a new culture for six months or so, and getting a student to smile is a big deal. Everyone here was smiling and laughing the whole time.”

Each finished machine came complete with a Windows 10 operating system and a free subscription from the school to the Microsoft Office Suite of applications. This way, the students could do homework at home, do research and work on college essays.

“They were super excited,” Ian says. “Most had never had a personal computer for their family at home.”

Ian was also excited to complete his project, which required about 100 hours from him and volunteers.

“If you’re looking for an Eagle project to do, do something you’re passionate about,” he says. “An Eagle Scout project can be fun if you make it fun.”

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