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Carolina’s Computer Repair Center powers on

From coffee spills to broken webcams, the Computer Repair Center can help — even during a pandemic.

A man repairs a laptop.
Justin Sykes works to repair a laptop computer at Carolina's Computer Repair Center. (Jon Gardiner/UNC-Chapel Hill)

In the age of endless Zoom calls, there is no tool more important to faculty and students alike than the laptop computer. But what happens when disaster strikes?

From coffee spills to broken webcams, Carolina’s Computer Repair Center can help — even during a pandemic.

The CRC works mainly behind the scenes, fixing broken hardware in any Lenovo, Dell or Apple computer a Carolina community member brings in. Despite the circumstances, said CRC Manager Peter Bolish, the CRC has still provided roughly 600 repairs this year, compared to 800 by this time in 2018.

“Given the constraints that we have to be up against and the safety precautions we have to take, being down only 200 repairs is pretty great,” Bolish said. “We’ve actually been seeing a lot more microphone and camera issues that we probably wouldn’t have seen in years past just because they weren’t used as heavily as they are today.”

The CRC closed in March after most on-campus operations went remote. Because of the difficulty of doing hands-on computer repair from home, Bolish said he and his team tried to provide service in other ways.

“We tried to supplement with our colleagues and our other services, like phone and chat,” Bolish said. “But from that day, we started planning on how we were going to reopen safely and how we were going to provide the high level of service that people have come to expect.”

In addition to hand-washing, physical-distancing and wearing masks, one of the innovations that came from these safety considerations was the installation of a locker that allows for contactless pickup and drop off of computers for repair. Erin Towne, ITS Service desk walk-in and chat manager, said the locker was installed with the goal that students would still have access to all the same services that they normally would, including those provided by the Carolina Computer Initiative, a program developed in 1997 to ensure that Carolina students, faculty and staff have easy access to high-quality and affordable technology.

“It was really important that we honor the CCI warranty and even provide an increased level of service to non-CCI students this year because we know that there are no computer labs,” Towne said.

One of the benefits of the locker, which is currently located in the Frank Porter Graham Student Union, is the efficiency of the drop-off-and-pick-up process. Towne said the reception to the locker has been overwhelmingly positive, so much so that they plan on continuing the service once campus life returns to normal.

“Normally at the beginning of the semester, the walk-in service desk has a line out the door,” Towne said. “Now, you don’t have to wait in a waiting room, you have a specific time for pick up and drop off. You can communicate with us via a live chat, which I think students really like because it’s a quick and efficient method of communicating with us.”

Bolish said that in addition to the efficiency the CRC has been able to offer through the contactless locker and their usual service, one of the most rewarding aspects of working through the pandemic has been the appreciation apparent in the interactions between students and the CRC’s technical staff.

He shared a story of a student who came to the CRC in a panic after their water bottle spilled inside their backpack, certain that their laptop would be water-damaged and all the data lost. “The water bottle was empty,” Bolish said. The computer “was dead, for all intents and purposes.”

However, when examining the machine, there was no trace of water damage. Bolish said the laptop started powering on and the student was able to log in and access all of their data.

“The appreciation from that student was just amazing,” Bolish said. “To hear and feel that appreciation in this type of situation made what we do worth it.”

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