A computer class offered for the second year at the Boonslick Technical Education Center gives students hands-on experience fixing computers, and they’ll donate all the computers they fix.

In David Hopkins’ IT Fundamentals class, which started when he took over the computer program last year, students learn how to fix computers by practicing on old and broken computers people have donated to the school.

Hopkins started the recycling program, Repair it Forward, when he was teaching at North Callaway High School in Kingdom City, then continued it at the Columbia Area Career Center. It came together after he heard about the Microsoft Refurbisher program that lets people refurbishing PCs install Windows and Microsoft Office for just a few dollars, and he started installing the software on the computers his students fixed in class.

At first, Hopkins’ students were repairing the computers for the school to use. Pretty soon, there were more ready-to-use computers than the school needed, so Hopkins started reaching out to local charities to find someone who could use them.

“It kind of just evolved from there,” he said.

Hopkins’ class gave junior Mason Rhoades the chance to do what he’s dreamed: work with computers. On Thursday, he was trying to figure out how to get a broken CPU to turn on, checking the wires to make sure they were all plugged in.

MarQuise Coleman took another one of Hopkins’ classes before this one – video game design. He liked Hopkins and is interested in computers, so he signed up for the IT Fundamentals. Rhoades came to the class by way of video games, too. He’s an avid gamer and said knowing how a computer works and how to fix one would useful if he got into professional gaming.

Video gaming and design are growing as professions and a way to get scholarships to college, but there are plenty of other careers working in computers. Computer and information technology jobs are expected to grow 12 percent between 2018 and 2028, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

That’s more than 500,000 new jobs available for people who can work with computers, and the industry’s median wage of $86,320 is more than double the $38,640 median wage for all occupations, according to the bureau.

Because of how many jobs and career fields in the future will require computer skills, it’s important to have those classes available at a vocational education school, BTEC Director Carri Risner said. Having introductory-level courses in computer hardware and software like the IT fundamentals and video game design classes gets students exposed to the subjects and gives them the fundamental skills to learn more, Risner said.

Learning how to troubleshoot is a big part of the course, Hopkins said. Working in pairs and groups, all hunched over the bench in the back of the room with their hands inside open CPUs, his students went back and forth on what could be the root of the problem with their machine.

“The big advantage with donated machines is you never know what you’ll get,” Hopkins said. “Every machine is a new troubleshooting challenge.”

Hopkins is always looking for people to donate computers — desktops or laptops in any condition. Before the first home football game on Sep. 13, he’ll be accepting donations at the BTEC. Just over two weeks into the new school year, Hopkins’ students have already repaired three computers, plus the two lab computers they took apart and reassembled, he said.

“One of our first activities is starting with a machine that runs. Take all that apart, put it all together, and we’ll see if it still runs,” Hopkins said. “If they’ve got that, it’s a good way to start the year.”

Risner said the school hasn’t determined who it’s going to donate computers to after the students fix them, but she thinks they’ll figure that out soon.

Hopkins retired from Columbia two years ago, but came out of retirement to spend two years helping rebuild the computer program in Boonville. He had been a mentor to Lawrence Williams, who left the BTEC right as Hopkins was retiring, so he came in to take Williams’ place for a spell.

It’s difficult to find people to teach career technical education because the people who are qualified to do it are often already doing it within their industry, Risner said. It’s hard to pull someone from industry, especially when they’d be taking a pay cut to teach.

“We want to find somebody just as committed to continuing and leading what (Hopkins) started into the right direction,” Risner said. “Especially with Repair it Forward and all the other things he’s putting into place now that he’s established procedures for how they’ll work.”

When he goes back into retirement after this school year ends, Hopkins hopes he’ll leave the program in a good place, having started the recycling program and a new technical math class during his short tenure.

“The idea is to get this rolling for the next person who comes,” Hopkins said.

bcrowley@gatehousemedia.com