12/08/2020 03:12 p.m. EST
After winning an award from the Clinton Education Foundation, Morgan School senior Ryan Nguyen is using the prize for good: building computers for families in Clinton with a technology need.
Earlier in 2020 as the country began to shut down in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Nguyen began thinking of ways to give back to his community. As anyone with school-aged students can attest, a side effect of the arrival of COVID-19 is that so much of everyday life has moved online from classes to work to town meetings. For some families, that shift has been difficult to accommodate, especially as the pandemic makes money tight.
In that chaos, Nguyen saw an opportunity.
“Given that lots of kids in school are online now and that so much of our future depends on having a generation with good technological literacy, I thought that it would be great to try to find a way to make technology more accessible to younger people. I know that there are lots of families in Clinton who have limited access to technology, so my idea was that I could use some funding and my skills with computers to build desktops for a couple of families,” Nguyen explained to the Harbor News.
Starting in October, Nguyen has built four different computers that will be given away to families in need through Clinton Social Services. Interested families can call the department at 860-669-7347. Human Resources Director David Melillo said the department will help vet the people who inquire about the computers.
“We thought this was a good opportunity to do good for people and we can recognize the great job he did,” Melillo said.
To finance the building of the computers, Nguyen used money that he won from the Brett Renfrew Memorial Scholarship Program given out by the Clinton Education Foundation.
According to the foundation’s website, “The Brett Renfrew Scholarship Program has provided stipends for students who wish to follow a dream that will help foster their growth and development.”
“It feels incredibly fulfilling to be able to help families in this time of need,” Nguyen said. “I get even more satisfaction knowing that a computer is a large investment which can help a family for a number of years. Kids will have a better chance of learning more online, learning how to use computers, and enjoy the computer for games and entertainment. Parents will have another place where they can pay their bills online and check their email.
“I’m a first-generation Vietnamese-American, so all of the adults in my family know what it’s like to be forced to make something of themselves without any resources to succeed. Even though we think we have everything because we live in the United States, there is a surprising divide in the quality of education and access to technology. I know for myself that I am incredibly privileged compared to millions of other people, so it feels great that I can make a difference in my own community,” Nguyen said.
The Building Blocks
During his lifetime, Nguyen estimated that he’s built around eight or nine computers. Nguyen has always had an interest in building, whether it was with Legos as a kid or electric circuit. In middle school, Nguyen started setting his sights on building computers when he began taking apart and rebuilding the family computer.
“I was somehow intrigued by how this network of wires and capacitors could allow me to surf the Internet and to play games. I really wanted to see if I could build my own, so my cousin, who studies electrical engineering at UConn, helped teach me the basics of how computers work from a hardware standpoint,” said Nguyen.
Through some additional guidance from YouTube and Reddit, Nguyen graduated to being able to understand aspects of computers like processing units and RAM. Starting in the seventh grade, Nguyen began saving up birthday and Christmas money to buy and use parts.
Every build of a computer is different for Nguyen due to the varied needs people have for their computers. To accomplish each unique build every computer has to contain different parts.
“For instance, one of my best friends wanted a computer that could play intense games at a high framerate, and he also wanted a large chunk of storage with fast load speeds. There are several different parts that I need to consider, from the RAM, CPU (Central Processing Unit), CPU cooler, motherboard, etc. Because he wants to play graphically intense games, I needed to put most of my energy into finding a powerful GPU (graphical processing unit) that would fit the confines of his budget. I would need to make sure that this particular GPU supports particular resolutions and games he wants to play his games at,” said Nguyen.
For the computers that are being given away Nguyen took a practical approach.
“In my particular case, I wanted to build desktops for family use, so the challenge was making a parts list within a tight budget that would offer good performance over a long period of time. The research for the parts can take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks, as I need to analyze the market to buy certain components at the time, they are the cheapest,” he said. “The actual building can take anywhere from an hour to eight hours. It all depends on the different complexities of every computer and it also depends on if I run into any troubleshooting issues on the way.”
In the future, Nguyen said he plans to continue to build computers for families and friends and said he wants to study electrical engineering and computer science in college. Nguyen called a future career working with robotics or AI his “dream job.” Nguyen said he’d continue to build computers to give away as long as he keeps getting funding.
As a final thought, Nguyen asked that people consider finding ways to help others, no matter the situation they personally may be in.
“Just remember that there are millions of people around the world and even in your own community that wish they were in the position you were in. Take a step back, appreciate what you have, and think of ways to give back to others and pay it forward when people help you,” Nguyen said.