Last semester, Melissa Melendez struggled to access a computer to complete her schoolwork. Melendez, 29, a medical lab science student with two children, said she did not have a laptop or Internet access in her home.

Melendez was working two jobs and taking 15 credit hours at Eastern, where she commutes from her home an hour away. She said sometimes she had to drive back to campus after classes just to use a computer.

“Money can be very demanding in my situation,” Melendez said. “My money has to be allocated to my children and my living expenses. I just point blank don’t have the money to spend on a laptop.”

She did have some help last semester from Eastern’s IT Department, which allows any student to check out a laptop for personal use. But until this semester, these check-outs only lasted a week before they had to be renewed.

To assist students like Melendez, who cannot always be on campus to complete their necessary work, the IT Department has introduced a new pilot program that allows students to check out laptops for an entire semester with no need to renew.

“We know in our region every student is not able to bring a laptop or computer to college with them,” said Jean Marlow, deputy chief technical officer.

Marlow said students were selected to participate in the pilot program if they had checked out weekly computers multiple times. About 40 to 50 students fit into that category, Marlow said, and about half of them accepted the invitation.

Other students who were not on the list have also been given laptops when they inquired at the IT Office. Lisa Moore, student support services manager and head of the Geek Program, said if a student approaches her who she thinks has a need, she’ll put him or her in the program.

“I haven’t turned anyone down yet,” Moore said.

Melendez, who will be a senior in the spring, was one of these walk-ins. Around the middle of this semester, when she kept checking out week-long laptops from IT, the staff suggested she ask for a semester-long computer.

“They got me a laptop within a few days of me asking about it,” Melendez said. “I am very thankful that it comes with no strings attached.”

The laptops in this program are higher quality than the ones available for week-long check out, Moore said. Many of them are older faculty and staff computers that were taken out of circulation.

The semester-long computers also do not go into “deep freeze,” Moore said. This means unlike the weekly laptops, which wipe themselves clean and lose work that isn’t backed-up, these laptops pick up where you left off after shutdown. This allows students to install their own software and customize their computers.

Marlow said students will have the option to renew for the spring semester as long as they’re still in good academic standing, meaning they can take the laptops home over winter break.

To cover the expense of the 50 computers in the program, Marlow said IT has closed down a few of the labs on campus that did not attract as many students, including IT labs in Combs and Whitlock.

Marlow said even though the school does not have the budget to do this for every student, she does not want to put any limitations on who can apply if the program is expanded.

“I don’t want it to just be NOVA students or just be first year students, and I don’t want it to be students just getting financial aid, either,” Marlow said. “We really don’t want to limit it in that way.”

Marlow said if the program proves successful, it will be opened up to more students next fall.

“We just want to support student learning and student success,” she said. “We really wanted to see if it was beneficial to the students and if it was well received.”

One student has already submitted her verdict:

“I cannot stress enough good things about this program,” Melendez said.