Growing up in rural Mayfield, Kentucky — population 9,000 — Chris Sanders wasn’t awash in technology and computers as a kid.
By the time he was in high school, it was practically a full-time job.
“My senior year of high school I only had one class. I had an hour of class every other day, and the rest of the time I fixed computers. I hung out in the computer lab and helped build them. School was essentially work, on-the-job training for me,” said Sanders, who was hired after graduation by the school to be the network administrator.
Now in Oakwood, Sanders is trying to make sure kids in the country have access to engineering and computing resources through his nonprofit, Rural Technology Fund.
“Last year, we basically put technology education in the hands of over 10,000 kids. This year we’re on pace to do nearly 25,000,” he said.
The fund already has its touch in the local area, as Sanders’s group donated to White Sulphur Elementary School’s request for a Makerspace Lab.
Teachers Tracie Turk and Gail Thayer worked on the project to give students engineering kits and tools for science, technology, engineering and math learning.
“I really believe in providing opportunities for kids to use creative thinking, outside-the-box type thinking, being able to do things with their hands that are more open-ended,” Turk said.
Sanders’s earliest experiences with computers came after a cousin was incarcerated and learned about the trade in prison. By the time Sanders was reaching high school, he was making simple games and fixing computers for cash.
“It paid my gas money during high school, and at that point, it got to where I realize maybe I could make a career out of it,” he said.
Sanders said he hopes to reach schools in all 50 states by next year, but the impetus comes from passionate teachers.
The donations to schools include 3-D printers, robotics sets and circuit-building kits.
“They think they’re playing games, but it’s really teaching them things like logic and structure and semantics, things you would learn in a computer science class as a freshman in college,” said Sanders, who started the information security practitioner-focused company Applied Network Defense.
Turk said she was shocked to see Sanders was from the local area and hoped there can be future partnerships.
“We’re both here and we both kind of have the same vision,” she said.
After receiving the materials two weeks ago, Turk said the school is putting on the finishing touches on the Makerspace.
“The more opportunities we can give to them in our building, the more they’ll grow,” she said.