Roger Thompson, of Wildwood, has been doing his college class work on his computer at work since his personal computer crashed a year ago.
"I take most of my classes online," said the Atlantic Cape Community College business marketing major, who works in the hotel industry. He was grateful to be able to use the computer at work, but as a father, it was not always convenient.
On Monday, Thompson was one of nine recipients of brand-new Dell laptops in a new Collegiate Computers program that loans laptops to qualified students and will allow them to keep them if they graduate on time.
The program was created by Maria Kellett, director of resource development at Atlantic Cape. She approached the local nonprofit group Mustard Seed of Cape May County, which agreed to donate $15,000 toward the program. South Jersey Industries contributed another $5,000, and Staples provided gift cards, discounts and access to technology help.
The students received their computers at a special ceremony Monday at the Cape May Campus in Cape May Court House.
Atlantic Cape President Peter Mora said the program is part of the college's mission to help students graduate in a timely manner. Graduation and retention rates at community colleges have been a national issue, and Atlantic Cape is part of the national Achieving the Dream program to help more students succeed.
"Our top priority now is student success," Mora said.
Eligible Cape May County students had to be in their second year at the college with at least 30 credits, have maintained a grade point average of at least a 2.0, or a "C," and demonstrate financial need. They have four more semesters to complete their programs and keep the computers. Fifteen students applied, but only nine met all of the requirements.
Patricia Gentile, dean of the Cape May Campus, said the number one reason students don't graduate is typically financial, so access to a computer can make a huge difference.
Recipients will also be partnered with mentors who include members of the county American Association of University Women, and college faculty and staff.
Trevor Bridge, general manager of the Cape May Court House Staples, and Ilene Eberly coordinator of the program at Atlantic Cape, presented students with their state-of-the-art touch-screen computers, along with carryall bags, printers, the latest software already installed, a flash drive and coupons for discounts on supplies.
"You've already shown you have taken steps to be successful," Eberly said. "This is a reward."
It's a bit overwhelming," said recipient Tamia Bey, of the Whitesboro section of Middle Township, as she and the others booted up their new computers after the ceremony.
April Rose Muentz, of Cape May, said she has a desktop computer, but it's really old.
Shanina Price, of Cape May Court House, said the laptop and printer will allow her to work almost anywhere at any time.
"I've got two jobs and three kids," she said. "I need to be able to work anywhere. I used to have to come here to get stuff printed. Now I can print at home."
Thompson said he, too, looked forward to being able to spend more time at home with his 6-year-old.
"Now I can work at home at 3 a.m. if I have to," he said.
Other recipients were Tara Baliban, of Ocean City; Barbara Burke, of Cape May Court House; Danielle Leroy, of the Petersburg section of Upper Township; Allison Miller, of Cape May; and Crystal Wimley, of the Villas section of Lower Township.
Randall Bauer, of the Mustard Seed, talked about how the group got its name from the parable of the tiny mustard seed that grew up strong. He likened the parable to the students who have chosen to improve their lives.
"A lot of people have faith in you." he said. "And the greatest faith is the faith you also have in yourself. We are very happy to extend this faith in you and to be part of your future."
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