CS@VT graduates return to Haiti to teach the next generation of computer science teachers

Publish Date: 11/14/2012

Three graduates of the CS@VT program returned to their native country of Haiti to work and to teach the next generation of computer science teachers. Mario Eliezer Calixte (BS 2010, MAEd 2012), Fabrice Marcelin (BS 2010 and MS 2012) and Jennifer Alexandra François (BS 2010) taught two training sessions for Haitian teachers.  (Pictured at left are Calixte, François, and Marcelin.)

The press release from Higher Education for Development, part of the US Agency for International Development (USAID): Following a devastating 2010 earthquake, Haiti received donations of all kinds and funding from several countries to support its recovery and rebuilding process. When Literacy Volunteers of Fauquier County (LVFC) in Warrenton, Va. donated and installed computer labs with Linux-Mint operating systems throughout Haiti, the group faced one major hurdle: The Haitian teachers and computer lab managers were familiar with Windows, but not with Linux. Determined to put their donations to use, Denny Baumann of LVFC contacted Virginia Tech faculty and requested computer training support for the recipients in northern Haiti. However, the solution was already in-country: Three computer science graduates, Mario Eliezer Calixte, Fabrice Marcelin, and Jennifer Alexandra François, had returned to Haiti months earlier upon graduation from Virginia Tech. “As Haitians, we are well aware of how difficult it is to get either prime education or training, so we felt that it was our right and duty to teach such skills and share our knowledge with the teachers and students in Haiti,” stated François, a recent Virginia Tech graduate and new employee at Ericsson, a telecommunication company.

Calixte, Marcelin, and François applied skills and techniques acquired through their education at Virginia Tech to create and facilitate training sessions in their home country. They are among the five graduates whose bachelor’s degrees were funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development through a Higher Education for Development (HED) partnership between Virginia Tech and Ecole Supérieure d'Infotronique d'Haïti. As trainers, the three Haitian computer science engineers collaborated on curricula development and led two one-day computer skills sessions in September 2012 in Terrier-Rouge and Port-au-Prince. “This opportunity matched my vision to use technologies to bring educational resources and training into the hard-to-reach area of Haiti,” stated Calixte. A total of 14 teachers from schools in Terrier-Rouge, Capotille, Ouanaminthe, Fort-Liberte, Port-au-Prince, and Petit Goave attended hands-on sessions to learn basic navigation skills, application information, and the difference between Linux, Windows and Mac computer operating systems. Calixte and Marcelin also worked individually with each participant and tailored instructions to each person’s level. “With my vast knowledge of Linux-Mint, I know I would be a valuable asset to the team,” stated Marcelin.

Fulfilling local community needs is not a new endeavor for Calixte, Marcelin, and François. While at Virginia Tech, they were members of the student group, “Computer Science Community Service,” which is dedicated to teaching computer skills to U.S. youth and adults alike. Their spirit of global community service is rooted in their international higher education partnership. “The experience at VT had a great impact in our involvement in this project,” stated François. “As strong believers of Virginia Tech’s motto ‘Ut Prosim—That I May Serve,’ giving back to the community is now second nature to us.”

The Linux training moved a group of Haitian educators a step closer to accessing education tools in a formerly unfamiliar operating system. “I personally appreciated the fact that after the session in Terrier-Rouge, all the participants took their time to thank us since they enjoyed how the presentation was delivered,” Marcelin stated.