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Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Techshop needs funding to tie UW to community

As the generation of Web 2.0, we're all too familiar with its keywords: social networking, podcasting and blogging. Most of us are content with our participation as mere users. At the receiving end, we have been savoring the creations of others for years. An interdisciplinary course at UW, Techshop, is suggesting something novel: link your passion about Web 2.0 to community service. Most students would think that such a worthwhile program could easily get funding from the university. But the truth is Techshop will be discontinued after next semester due to funding shortages. If UW is truly dedicated to its students and the future of Wisconsin, it should reconsider its decision.

The goal of Techshop is simple: by pairing trained students and local nonprofit organizations, it hopes to provide one-on-one technology support for the community. According to Techshop, it borrowed the idea from the Science Shop project instituted in the European Union. As early as 1973, the first Science Shop was established in the Netherlands to promote ""equal distribution of knowledge."" UW launched its own equivalent in 2007. So far, Techshop has served dozens of organizations in the local nonprofit arena.

This bond to the community makes the program a mutually beneficial deal. Students can readily apply what they learn to solving real world issues. Many of us first came to college driven by the noble idea of serving our community. But once we settle down into a comfortable niche on campus, we slip into our infamous habit of procrastination. But community service is not something we can put off until graduation. Techshop tells you it is possible to contribute now. By exposing themselves to different members of the community, students can reap invaluable first-hand experiences with social challenges. We know that nonprofit organizations are in dire need of funds. But how exactly does this affect their day-to-day operations, such as communication with the public? If students have no concept of this reality, how can we expect them to be devoted advocates for the well-being of society as a whole?

UW has been promoting the Wisconsin Idea for decades. All of its initiatives boil down to one goal: use your education to benefit Wisconsin. Techshop is not only a good practice of the Wisconsin Idea, but also furthers its cause beyond alumni: As a student on campus, you can also realize the Wisconsin Idea.

Unlike many local volunteering opportunities, Techshop offers an intellectual learning experience, making it better tailored for college students. We agree that it is helpful to hand out fundraising flyers for nonprofit organizations. But anybody can handle tasks like this. So what's the value of your college education? Thanks to Techshop, we can do something more. Wouldn't it be more effective if you pair your flyers with an interactive Website, where people can learn about the issue and contribute conveniently?

Nonprofit organizations are in great need of such help. Many of them don't even have a functional Internet presence. For those who have one, the sites are roughly-designed Web pages with hardly any interactive features.

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Everyone can see the power of interaction. Add a Facebook link on the homepage and you could potentially extend your cause to the rest of the world. But even when the existence of nonprofit organizations has come into question, how can it afford the resources to build up interactivity? Through Techshop students will be able to help them get their voice heard.

The university should not only support programs like Techshop, but also expand them further. Despite its success among local organizations, the size of Techshop remains small due to funding constraints. Last semester, it enrolled only 11 students, an embarrassing number compared with the 40,000 UW student body. Besides saving Techshop from closure, the university should work more on building connections between the students and the needy in the local community.

""Influence and improve people's lives beyond the university classroom."" This has been the pursuit of UW-Madison for 100 years. On the issue of Techshop, it shouldn't merely be a fancy slogan.

Qi Gu is a junior majoring in journalism. Please send all responses to 

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