Sick computer? Let USC computing students fix it

When Ben Morgan was a youngster, growing up in the small South Carolina community of Blackstock, he loved to take apart the old computers his dad brought home from work. He just had a little trouble putting them back together.

As a senior computer engineering major at USC’s College of Engineering and Computing, Morgan has learned a lot more about successfully putting the pieces back together and has even built his own computer.

This weekend, Morgan will lead a team of about two dozen computing students as they help Columbia residents put their ailing computers back in working order.

"Everyone has an obligation to use their knowledge and abilities to help their community," said Michael Huhns, chair of the department of computer science and engineering. "For computer scientists and computer engineers, their knowledge of how a computer should work enables them to fix whatever might be wrong with one. A computer has become essential for almost everyone in our community."

Fix-It Day will be held from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday (Oct. 12) at the Swearingen Engineering Center at 301 Main St.

Services will include virus and spyware removal, software installation, hardware diagnostics and general troubleshooting.

The USC student chapter of the Association for Computing Machinery — the oldest computer-related professional organization — is offering the free program. Morgan says the group hopes to make Fix-It Day a once-a-semester community service event.

The last time the event was held, more than 300 people showed up with sick computers.

“We see everything from infected computers or simply user issues to hardware issues like the computer won’t turn on,” Morgan said. “The last time they did Fix-It Day, they had a person bring a computer that they said wouldn’t turn on. When they opened it up, it was full of ants.”

Morgan said he suspects that most work will focus on removing viruses and helping users choose free virus software to protect against future problems.

“A lot of issues just come from surfing the Web and a lack of knowledge about protecting the computers,” he said.

The students offer the caveat that they can’t fix everything and owners may have some data loss during the repair process. The team will try to work with Apple products, but has more experience working on Windows-based personal computers and laptops.

The team includes students from all computing areas of the college who have experience working in information technology departments as well as their classwork, and most have built their own computers.

Morgan’s specialty is hardware-level programming.

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