High School alum fills in digital divide little byte at a time in Wisconsin

Michael Pitsch, an Appleton West High School and Wilson Middle School alum, is a man on a mission to bridge the digital divide for kids.

Lucky for Appleton, he thought of both alma maters when a big batch of used Pentium computer systems came his way.

The 1970 West graduate is founder and executive director of Tech Corps Wisconsin, a state chapter of a national nonprofit group that links children without access to technology to everything from computers and keyboards to laser printers.

Saturday, Pitsch and his team of staff and volunteers showed up with 100 computers for West, 50 for Wilson and 25 laptops for Odyssey Charter School pupils based at Foster Elementary School.

Today, students discovered the equipment humming away in their classrooms, and school district officials celebrated a windfall worth about $130,000 once its own costs are figured.

Pitsch hopes the donation will raise Tech Corps’ profile among potential Fox Valley donors and recipients so his “mission work” can spread.

A former shop teacher who also worked in computer support for small businesses, Pitsch decided to help kids “get connected” after installing donated machines at his daughter’s ill-equipped school.

He quickly adopted the national founder’s Peace-Corps-like zeal to help have-not schools as if they were any Third World country.

“It’s all about leveling the playing field for kids who need to compete for jobs and college,” Pitsch says. “We want to make an impact on children who are less than affluent and wouldn’t necessarily have access at home.”

Tech Corps, based in Racine, accepts donations of “surplused out” equipment from sponsors as varied as Harley-Davidson, Abbott Laboratories, the IRS and local government agencies.

It refurbishes the gifts and turns around and gives them to schools in need. “Mostly we work with institutions that have horribly old or unusable equipment, or have no computers,” Pitsch says.

The bulk of the group’s work has been done within a 100-mile radius of Racine since Pitsch started in 1996, but he would like to expand its reach.

“It’s time for us to let more people know about what we do, and give them an opportunity to help us do this, he says, citing struggling, rural schools in this area that could benefit.

Part of the reason he approached Appleton was his childhood connection, but the increasingly diverse, at-risk and low-income makeup of the student body also played a role, as did the fact that Tech Corps had a large computer system to donate.

“We typically don’t have 150 at one time.” Pitsch says. A lot of projects we do involve 6-60 computers. We were looking for a school district that had sufficient wherewithal to accept this huge infusion in terms of the networking, support and teacher training needed.”

While Tech Corps’ goal is to put the best equipment possible in front of children, access is the key, Pitsch says. “You don’t need a brand new computer to plug into the Internet or type a book report.”

Tech Corps planned to place four computers in every instructional classroom at West and Wilson.

“If we can get this technology directly into the classroom to help deliver curriculum in, say science or math. That’s really the future,” says Pitsch. “Teachers taking a whole class into lab to reproduce curriculum is a less than satisfying experience.”

Helping out his old district is nice, but Pitsch enjoys making this kind of difference anywhere Tech Corps is needed from after-school programs to day care centers.

This business is very emotionally lucrative,” he says. “Doing good for children is what drives us.”

To learn more about Tech Corps Wisconsin, call 262-886-1807 or see its Web page at

Kathy Walsh Nufer can be reached at 920-993-1000, ext. 290, or by e-mail at [email protected]

(Do we have or can we develop a similar program in Montana that includes continued tech training of our educators by our business professionals?- Russ)

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