tampabay.com

Like dad, student builds his computer

By JEFFERY S. SOLOCHEK
Published April 21, 2007


LAND O'LAKES - Growing up, Cory Archuleta watched his dad build computers, one component at a time.

Though he used them, Cory didn't get more involved than knowing the difference between the disk drive and the USB port. So for his senior class project at Land O'Lakes High, he decided to delve into the world of motherboards and memory chips himself.

"I've always thought that they are fun," said Cory, 18, as he waited for his turn to have his effort judged. "So I took this opportunity to build one from scratch."

With graduation just a month away, seniors across Pasco County are finishing up their yearlong projects, which include a research paper, portfolio, product or performance and a culminating presentation to judges. They pick a topic of their choice, and they're supposed to demonstrate that they learned something new.

"Everything they have learned through 12 years of school is reflected in this process, and it's skills they need to carry on into post-secondary education or the world of work," said Betsy Anderson, senior project coordinator at Land O'Lakes.

It's also something to keep the students, many of whom already have acceptance letters in hand to whatever comes next, focused on high school. The School Board, some of whose members have their doubts about the projects' value, plans to have a workshop on them on May 1.

In the school media center, it was easy to tell which students had to make presentations. They were the ones dressed in their Sunday best, poring over note cards or PowerPoint slides, shifting nervously while waiting for the call to enter one of the five rooms where judges would listen to them for six to 10 minutes.

The subject matter varied widely, and included global warming, the history of hip-hop and how to build a cabinet.

Some didn't take it too seriously. Two students turned in their portfolios one day earlier. One judge said a couple of students answered "nothing" when asked what they had learned.

For the most part, though, the students said they found the effort worthwhile.

"It gives the seniors a chance to express themselves and learn something," said Nathaniel Ralston, 18, after playing some Dixieland on his trombone for his judging panel. He liked that students could pick their topic, making it better than "some really dumb project at school."

"I think it broadens your horizons," said Nadine Narine, 17, as she cued her music for a presentation on Indian dance. "I never exactly paid attention to the history of the dance. We would just perform all over the place. But it was more entertainment to us."

The judges, who rated each student on a 100-point scale, took their role seriously, too. They asked prodding questions and made sure to write helpful comments on the score sheets.

"I want to be true to them, so they can benefit from it," said Richard A. Fernandez, regional marketing director for Academic Financial Services. "This is going to help them in the future. Talking to people is the essence of anything in life."

Cory, wearing his only dress clothes dad's tie and belt, took just a few seconds to get into the groove while discussing the details of his homemade computer, which is customized for audio and video editing.

He didn't get flustered when his borrowed remote control inexplicably called up his iTunes library mid-presentation. He had specific answers for each question that his judges asked, including those from Fernandez, who had also built his own computer.

His hands didn't even shake as he removed the computer case and invited the judges to look inside. "Just don't touch anything," Cory warned.

After he ended the presentation, the judges in unison offered, "Very cool," and Cory breathed a sigh of relief.

"I'm glad it's over. I won't lie," he said, disconnecting wires and packing up. "I am going home. Give me a free pass, I will take it."

His plans? To play Hero on his senior class project.

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at solochek@sptimes.com (813) 909-4614 or toll-free 1-800-333-7505 ext. 4614. For more education news, visit The Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.