On April 26, Illinois State University officially welcomed a new RSO known as the Technology Assistance Community Outreach Service (TACOS). Prior to this recognition, the organization was known as a special interest group under a parent RSO, the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM).
ACM President and Senior IT Specialist Kenneth Baity noted strong attendance at their Linux event and recently registered the organization as a student chapter within ACM National, expanding access for all. members to learning resources.
Baity said he is currently working on a way to share this knowledge with a wider audience through in-person events as well as a YouTube channel for viewers to learn about computer skills through computer science students. Current ACM members are developing and honing their skills with SQL, Python, Linux, and blockchain.
Audra Heistand, TACOS president and computer science major, explained that TACOS was developed with the goal of creating a positive impact in the Bloomington-Normal community by using what students learn in the classroom.
“The idea for this organization goes back to when I was in high school. Looking around colleges, I found that Stanford had a group called CS+Social Good that really inspired me. While writing essays for scholarships, I always mentioned how I wanted to help others with my computer science degree,” Heistand said.
Their current work includes working with seniors at Luther Oaks in Bloomington, Living Well United in LeRoy, and Bloomington Housing Authority. This summer, they plan to volunteer at the Western Avenue Community Center in Bloomington.
Heistand said the opportunity arose after an email from School of Information Technology Internship coordinator Tal Parmeter, who said staff at Luther Oaks are looking for help to help seniors who are more reliant on technology than ever due to the pandemic.
“We help these community partners by resolving technology issues, assisting with Oasis-funded technology classes, and hosting curriculum-related/teaching technology classes for seniors,” said Heistand.
Both ACM and TACOS felt their hard work was recognized after winning the Registered Student Organization’s 2021 Civic Engagement Award. Baity said he is extremely proud of TACOS and their student-organized initiative to partner with community members.
“It was very encouraging to receive the Registered Student Organization Civic Engagement Award, especially as a group that was just formed in the fall of 2021,” said Matt Tobeck, vice president. of TACOS and senior IT specialist.
Baity said most of the students who volunteer at senior centers like Luther Oaks are relatively new to customer service and tech troubleshooting, which he says is beneficial for students and members. of the community, as it offers both parties the opportunity to learn together.
“I want to emphasize to students and new learners that you don’t have to be an expert in a particular field to teach and impact your community. Everyone is always learning and growing alongside you, and I think that’s one of the best things about supporting a community,” Baity said.
Heistand added that in the future, TACOS wants to help other age groups, such as mentoring students or developing programs, websites or apps for nonprofit organizations.
“We are also always looking for new members. Members don’t need to be computer gurus or anything, just willing to help and have a basic knowledge of technology. Students can improve their soft skills and troubleshooting abilities by volunteering,” Heistand said.