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“Get Oakland Connected” Through Service

September 3, 2012

Today’s guest post comes from Jasmine DK Shepard, an AmeriCorps Alum who served with Climate Corps – Bay Area and Oakland Technology Exchange West. Like many Alums, she is looking for a job, specifically one that will help jumpstart her career in engineering. You can keep up with her job hunt at Hire Jasmine.

On July 27th, I was at my graduation ceremony for my second year of AmeriCorps. It was time of celebration, anticipation and reflection. Three years ago I was fresh out Georgia Southern’s engineering department set on what I thought was a predictable path and now I found myself a “champion of change and conservation.” How did that happen?

All AmeriCorps members are interested in doing their part in improving communities. I too wanted to make the world a better place, with technology. As an engineering grad, I wanted to use my skills to serve my country. Programming, web design, project planning, technical writing, schematic reading, things like that.

Before, when I thought of AmeriCorps I thought of teaching people to read, working on public policy, and with one of my best friends in NCCC, disaster relief. In my 2 years of Americorps I have built websites, wrote and taught curriculum on using software and technology; I’ve installed solar, trained to be an Energy Efficiency Auditor, and assigned hundreds of volunteers for crews to install residential solar electric systems.

With students at OTX West.

My first year was as a VISTA in the now defunct Digital Arts Service Corps at Oakland Technology Exchange West (OTX West). OTX West is a non-profit that provides refurbished computers to Oakland youth and volunteers. It was founded by a retired IBM engineer and they not only help fight the digital divide but the environment as well. They keep countless computers, monitors, even old VCRs from ending up in the landfill. They fix them, make them better than new, teach a 3 hour class on the computer and included a great warranty.

It was a great year full of change as I moved from my life-long home of Georgia-Carolina and found myself in Oakland, California. I had never been to California, didn’t know anything about it. (Wasn’t until I got the offer that I learned Oakland, San Francisco, and Berkeley are all next to each other). Sometimes I literally felt like I was in another country.

My assignment was to implement “Get Connected Oakland” I create the website, designed the GCO logo and did lots of research and visiting others in the community who provided no/low-cost tech support and technology education.

Serving at OTX West

Education was happening but it was behind the times. Hardly any classes were teaching Social Media safety as many of the instructors rarely used it themselves. A lot of them already knew the basics but didn’t know how to print double sided to save paper, set-up vacation responses in email, or how to change visibility settings on Facebook. Then there’s the fun stuff, alot of baby-boomers were more interested in learning website design, photo-manipulation and digital scrap-booking over learning Office. Most of these classes taught using paid software like Photoshop which is very expensive and led to people downloading it illegally in turn getting viruses and warnings from the ISP. So, I started writing curriculum for these topics, using only free web based or open source software.

Eventually I started teaching some classes; I realized that I had enjoyed teaching all along. I was always the one that people called on when they had a tech question because they could understand me easier the the IT guy. Adult education is more about personal choice and they’re so passionate about learning skills to help them stay in the know. One of my favorite days was the “BYOD” (Bring your own device) the class would vote on device (cell phones, digital cameras, mp3 players, etc.) and I’d show them what was similar about all of them, then by brand, and then help individually as needed.

Along the way I built computers, helped put together a lab or two, and created forms that helped reduce paper usage at OTX West by 30% and increased data integrity. I had accomplished my goal and along the way found myself more interested in energy conservation and efficiency. I had just finished my first year at a green organization and it wouldn’t be my last.

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