Union's ACM group offers low-cost computer repair

JACKSON, Tenn. - Feb. 8, 2012- Students and a professor in Union University's computer science department have together repaired more than 100 computers for other members of the Union community, at low prices, in the past three years.

Max Haifei Li, associate professor of computer science, advertises the repair services he and the students provide. Then when students, faculty and staff bring their Microsoft or Apple computers to his office to be repaired, he notifies students of each new project.

Students who repair computers are part of Union's Association of Computer Machinery, an organization consisting mostly of computer science majors, though Li said some other students participate out of their enjoyment of working with computers.

Luke Ferguson, a junior computer science major, learned about fixing computers in a high school course and also in a computer repair and maintenance class his freshman year at Union. Li taught the course.

"I became involved in computer repair at Union through Dr. Li," Ferguson said. "He asked me if I wanted to fix a computer, and naturally I said yes."

Li had only recently learned to repair computers himself when he taught Ferguson"s class. Before coming to Union, Li had extensive software programming and research experience, working for one of the few oil companies in China. He earned his doctorate in computer science and conducted post-doctoral research at IBM.

After Li became knowledgeable about computer repair, he realized he and his students could help others save money by reducing computer repair fees and eliminating the assessment fees many repair service companies charge for an evaluation that sometimes takes less than five minutes, Li said.

Li designed the repair program so that he does not receive any funds for the computer repair service. Each student who repairs a computer gets 50 percent of the repair payment and ACM gets the other 50 percent. When Li repairs a computer, 100 percent of the payment goes to ACM. Computer repair tools are often purchased with some of the ACM money, allowing Li and the students to provide more services and stay up-to-date on computer repair.

Students do not have to wait until they have taken a course to join the team of computer doctors. John Ackerman, a freshman computer science major, has already begun picking up some of the projects Li posts.

Ackerman joined the repair service group to help others, to make money and because he truly enjoys repairing computers, he said.

Both Ackerman and Ferguson said they repair about one computer per week, often working on computers that have been damaged by a virus or have broken screens or hard drives.

They also both follow a similar procedure when they get challenging projects - they go to the Web.

"You can just about find any answer from the internet," Ferguson said. "You just have to know what to search for. If I still cannot figure it out, I give a well-educated guess and suggest to the customer what he or she should do next."

Li said the repair service provides an even more important skill than problem solving.

"The repair program is a learning process for (the students) and also for me," Li said. "You have to have lots of skills: personal skills, listening skills. That's the very important one. Each particular problem is unique, so you have to listen to figure out what is exactly wrong."

By Samantha Adams ('13)

Dr. Li and Alvin Roberts
Photo by Morris Abernathy

Haifei Li, associate professor of computer science, works with Union University junior Alexander Roberts in a computer repair and maintenance class. Li and a group of his students provide computer repair services for the university community.