PowerUP, a massive educational technology effort that undertook to bridge the “digital divide” by installing millions of dollars worth of computer equipment in schools and community centers nationwide, closed its doors for good Oct. 31, leaving schools in need with one less friend to turn to. Though it failed to eliminate the divide, the programestablished in 1999did succeed in equipping nearly 1,000 high-tech computer labs in underserved areas across the country before pulling the plug.
Backed by such high-profile corporate sponsors as AOL Time Warner Inc., Cisco Systems Inc., and Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP), PowerUP spent upwards of $50 million on the labs, which were equipped with a hodgepodge of donations from its sponsors.
Nonprofit organizations, too, played a role. The Waitt Family Foundation, created by Gateway Inc. founder Ted Waitt, provided from 10 to 20 new Gateway machines for each center, and the Case Foundationled by AOL Chairman Steve Casedonated $10 million to get the program off the ground.
“The concept was to provide an avenue of access to technology … for people who would not normally have that,” said Al Panico, director of grants for the Waitt Family Foundation.
That’s exactly what happened in certain areas of Mississippi, where PowerUP signed on in January to help create PowerPALS, a network of 66 community technology centers throughout the state, valued at $4.75 million.
According to Betty Laupigg, the project’s director, PowerPALS was a monumental success. While PowerUP provided the equipment for the project, the centers also were supported and staffed by such organizations as the state department of education, the Appalachia Regional Commission, and the Boys and Girls Clubs of America.
Now that PowerUP has folded, it will be up to those new partners to keep the technology centers running, she said.
Though some parties involved have implied that the swooning stock market and sluggish economy contributed to the program’s downfall, PowerUp spokesman Kevin O’Shaugnessy said there were other reasons for shutting down.
According to him, PowerUP lost steam when its slew of high-profile corporate benefactors decided their generosity would be better spent promoting individual efforts rather than collaborative projects with inter-industry partners.
“There was an evolution of what they wanted to do in their philanthropy … away from the PowerUP model,” he said.
PowerUP’s demise is bad news for needy communities in search of better technology access, but its termination will have little effect on the community technology centers it already has helped to build. That’s because PowerUP was never intended to provide ongoing funding for any of the initiatives, O’Shaugnessy said.
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PowerUP (Shut down Oct. 31) http://www.powerup.org