Keegan, National AXA Achievement Scholar

Keegan, Class of 2015 at Loyola Sacred Heart High School in Missoula, Montana, is one of the most unique, caring, and skilled students with whom Hughes Tutoring has had the pleasure to work.  We encourage all of our students to engage in a significant leadership-based service project, as a way to investigate potential career paths, develop leadership skills, and build confidence.  For many students, getting started with such a project is a challenge – the prospect of something large and unknown can be intimidating.   We recently had an opportunity to discuss Keegan’s highly successful leadership project with him, and he had some wonderful advice for students getting started with this process.

Keegan, can you describe your project for those who don’t know about it?

Laptops for Students is a project I started in the Missoula community to refurbish and restore old, used laptops, and donate them to students in the community who could not afford them. Through my website, relaptops.org, I was able to accept applications, as well as donations, for laptops.  Condition of these laptops ranged from “broken beyond repair” to “like new but in need of upgrades.” Almost all of these machines were either used for parts or restored for a student who could reuse it.

Brainstorming a direction for a leadership project can be one of the most difficult pieces of the process. Where did your idea come from?

Tinkering with things has always been a passion of mine – from vintage cars to computers. When I was in 8th grade, I wanted a laptop for myself, but I did not have the money to get one. I found that I was good enough at fixing laptops that I could restore some of the old computers my school did not need. After I restored one that I could use, I wanted to keep working on them (mostly so that I could keep learning), but I had nowhere to put these perfectly good machines once I fixed them, so I started giving them away to fellow students. That’s where the project originated, and eventually I realized that this was something that could benefit students across Missoula, which was when I started to branch out.

What obstacles did you encounter with the project?

I encountered a few obstacles with my project, mainly while I was trying to expand it beyond my school community. These problems mainly revolved around advertising, and maintaining a good base of donations and applications. The second and third problems were resolved by getting the word out to the community as much as I could, and making sure that people had a safe and easy way to contact me. I did this mostly through public radio interviews and setting up a website. Setting up a website and Facebook page were key steps for me, because they allowed me to reach people all over the county (and surprisingly, from around the country as well) through a safe and secure portal. This also gave me an easy way to distribute information and receive applications and email strictly related to the project.

What was something that surprised you during your work creating “Laptops for Students”?

I was truly not expecting the response that I received from the community. I can, in all honesty, say that I did not realize how large the need was in our community for something like this, and I was ecstatic to see the interest from our public schools and local businesses, who quickly became interested in getting involved in the project. The best part about the whole thing is that it is a win-win project for everyone. Businesses get good P.R. while recycling their old machines, students are able to get a 21st century education with their own laptop, and the student volunteers for the project get a great stress-free introduction to working with technology in a real world situation, which is highly valued in today’s job market. I knew that there was going to be some reaction, but I never expected the project to hit so close to home for so many families, or for it to grow as large as it did. It has truly been a wonderful experience, and every time I give another person a laptop I get a new reaction, and a new smile. I will never be tired of this experience and I am glad that it is going to continue after I go to college.

What is the current status of your project?

Currently, Laptops for Students has given away almost 100 laptops to students across the Missoula valley and in areas as far away as Seattle and Florida. Currently, we are working with the Missoula County Public Schools to integrateLaptops for Students into Big Sky’s after-school Flagship Program, which would not only give us some funding for licenses, but also allow the schools to get rid of hundreds of old laptops that are currently being upgraded. This collaboration will also provide us with students who can sign up for the program and work with Laptops for Students in restoring computers for their own peers. Also, with college on the horizon for myself, I am very excited to say that one of Loyola’s juniors, Madison, will be taking over the project.  My hope is that this will become a yearly handoff – that a junior in our area will take leadership of the project each spring, and pass it on to another interested student the following year.

What advice would you give to students who are just starting to work on or brainstorm their own leadership project?

For those of you who are trying to figure out what to do for your leadership project, the best advice I can give is this: do what you are good at. Hold an art auction with your own canvas drawings along with other Missoula students at a First Friday Downtown show. In my mind, doing a leadership project is like finding a job, or starting a business. You want to work on something that you enjoy doing, and that you are good at, and that can be almost anything! Secondly (and almost as important) TALK to adults in the community. The biggest factor that helped my project develop and grow was my willingness to talk to people. When I debuted my project to the community, the first thing I did was send an email to the producers for Cherry Creek Radio and Town Square Media, and our local newspaper, The Missoulian (you can contact info on their websites). The great thing about Missoula is that the community is very involved, and everyone will work with you since you are making our community a better place.

What are your goals for college and beyond?

I will be attending Montana State University and I hope to pursue a job in the music recording or movie industry working on the technological side of music and sound. As a second option, I would also enjoy a career in Management Information Technology or IT. I was chosen as an award winner for the AXA Achievement Scholarship, which is $10,000. If I win the National level, it becomes $25,000. I just want to let you know, you guys have been absolutely instrumental in making this project, and my success story a reality. You guys were so much more like family to me than a tutoring service and I will never be thankful enough for the opportunities in life you have given me. Thank you so much!!

We wish Keegan the best of luck and can’t wait to see what amazing ways he continues to positively impact the world around him.  Please check out his website – www.relaptops.org – and help this wonderful program continue to grow.