IT's Good Citizens

Technology titans are making headlines with the fabulous sums they're donating to charity. Bill and Melinda Gates' foundation has contributed $22 billion to international children's health agencies.

Oracle Chairman Larry Ellison has promised $100 million to help computerize American schoolrooms.

Patrick J. McGovern, founder and chairman of International Data Group, the owner of Computerworld, was cited in Time magazine as the seventh most generous philanthropist in the U.S., with donations and pledges of $350 million.

While most information technology professionals don't share their vast wealth, many share the mega-donors' generosity of spirit and give what they can to make the world a better place. Meet four IT professionals whose neighborhoods are richer because they donate their time and talent.

• Don Sunderland

CIO

Edison Schools Inc.

New York

Every other Friday for several years, Don Sunderland would leave the office a little early - with his boss's blessings - and hurry uptown with his guitar. He wasn't auditioning for Britney Spears' band. He was leading sing-alongs at the Manhattan School for Children, an alternative public school on the Upper West Side. He and his wife, Ruth, are among the school's founding families.

"We loved the cultural and ethnic diversity of the West Side, but we couldn't help but note that the preschool our children were in looked as if we were in Westchester," says Sunderland, referring to the mostly suburban county just north of New York.

Determined to create a "true neighborhood school" with a mix of black, Hispanic and white children, a group of parents worked with the New York City public school system to launch the Manhattan School for Children's kindergarten and first grade in 1992. The school has since expanded up to the eighth grade. Located on West 93rd Street, it's now known as Public School 333.

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Smart Companies Support Volunteerism

A CIO leading a sing-along. An infrastructure manager playing fairy godmother. Another CIO patrolling a city neighborhood. Nice for them and nice for the people they help, but what's in it for their companies?

Plenty, according to a survey of more than 2,700 U.S. companies conducted last year by The Points of Light Foundation and The Conference Board.

94% of executives responding to the survey said they agree that volunteerism improves a company's public image.

93% said they agree that volunteerism builds employee teamwork skills.

74% said they agree that volunteerism increases employee productivity.

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Formerly the head of technology at a Wall Street firm, Sunderland could have afforded to send his children to private school. He says he didn't want to.

"I believe that public education is the American dream, the dream of immigrants that their children will receive the rights of passage to better lives through education. Anything that takes money out of public education and redirects it to private education has class distinction associated with it and penalizes those who are at a socioeconomic disadvantage," says Sunderland.

That passion led Sunderland to accept his current position as CIO of Edison Schools. Founded in 1992 as The Edison Project, Edison Schools is the country's leading private manager of public schools. Many of the schools Edison manages were underperforming before the company stepped in to rebuild them around a strong academic program, applied technology and an emphasis on parental involvement.

Edison has implemented its school design in more than 80 public and charter schools, which it operates under management contracts with local school districts and charter school boards. Each Edison school consists of small schools within schools, called "academies." The concept is similar to the one used at the Manhattan School for Children.

In Edison schools, technology is integrated into the curriculum. Every student, teacher, principal and administrator has easy access to classroom computers, video cameras, televisions and more. Every family with a student in the third grade or higher receives technology to use at home, and every teacher receives his own laptop computer.

In his involvement as a founding family member, past treasurer and parent of kids at the Manhattan School for Children, Sunderland says, "I learned the battles of opening schools and dealing with public education in an inner-city setting, and that very much applies to what we encounter at Edison."

• Stephen Raye

CIO

GeneralCologne Life Re of America

Stamford, Conn.

Stephen Raye knows firsthand that "Stamford is not all 4-acre zoning." In a region of the country that most Americans view as wealthy, Raye has found opportunities to support those in the community who must work two jobs to make ends meet.

Raye is a founding board member of the Mutual Housing Association of Southwest Connecticut in Stamford, a nonprofit organization created to provide affordable housing for people who are willing to commit themselves to ongoing community improvement tasks such as making repairs on buildings or cleaning up trash. As part of his involvement, Raye has walked the nightly crime patrol in the neighborhoods he helped establish.

"As a CIO, the skills you need are communication, relationship management and the ability to listen," says Raye. "That was what was needed at the Mutual Housing Association. We had a list of people who wanted housing that was longer than the list of the housing available. We created policies and procedures that would qualify people for the housing on an equitable basis."

In addition, Raye has served for more than two years on the Norwalk, Conn.-based Norwalk Community College (NCC) Information Technology Advisory Council. The council advises the two-year college on its curriculum, infrastructure and industry trends.

"Norwalk Community College is very aggressive in its mission of providing a world-class facility to educate and train IT professionals," says Raye. He says he appreciates the chance to serve on the IT Advisory Council, where he can help "fine-tune the IT programs, which provide us with talented IT interns and full-time employees."

When the college was planning a new building, Raye invited those in charge of the project to visit his company and examine its IT infrastructure so they could get a firsthand look at industry best practices. Raye also hired one of NCC's nontraditional students - a woman who had previously earned a math degree and was returning to the workplace and learning computer skills at NCC after raising her children.

"The members of the IT Advisory Council are absolutely the best group of people I've ever worked with," says William Schwab, president of NCC. "They keep us on task and give us such good advice."

• William Webster

Vice president, information management - consumer

Bristol-Myers Squibb Co.

Stamford, Conn.

Another member of NCC's IT Advisory Council is William Webster, who has served slightly less than a year. Bristol-Myers Squibb has hired NCC students for internship programs. "Community colleges address a portion of the population that aren't addressed by state four-year colleges and private universities," he says. "I feel good about helping young people get an education that immediately can be used in their life's work."

To that end, Webster is also working to establish a chapter of the Chicago-based Society of Information Management (SIM) in the area of Westchester County, N.Y., and Fairfield County, Conn. The SIM chapter founders will hold organizational meetings through this year, with the intention of launching the first general session in January.

"SIM helps groom the next level of executives who will take over our functions," Webster says.

• Gina Potenza

Manager of technical infrastructure

Lincoln Life and Annuity Company of New York

Syracuse, N.Y.

Gina Potenza is an official wish-granter. As a specially trained member of the central New York chapter of the Phoenix-based Make-A-Wish Foundation of America, Potenza is authorized to fulfill the desires of critically ill children in her community. The whole point is to focus the family's attention on having fun together instead of on the disease that threatens the child's life, Potenza says.

"The first wish I granted was for a little girl with lupus who loves Rosie O'Donnell and wanted to meet her," says Potenza.

Not only did Potenza make the youngster's wish come true, but she also embellished it. Potenza arranged for the girl's entire family to spend a week in New York. A limousine took them to the airport, and the kids received backpacks stuffed with goodies and games to keep them occupied during the flight and cameras and notebooks to record their adventure.

They met the popular comedian and talk show host backstage and were members of the audience through two tapings of her TV show. The family visited tourist spots such as the Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty. The entire wish fulfillment was paid for by the foundation. "There is no monetary limit on a wish, and the average wish is $5,000, since we enhance them so much," says Potenza, who also serves on the chapter's fund-raising committee.

Two years ago, Potenza decided to put feet to her desire to give back to her community. She asked the advice of a senior manager at Lincoln Life and Annuity who was known for her volunteerism. The mentor helped Potenza identify organizations in the community that were involved in helping children.

"When you contact an organization to offer your services as a tech-support person - or in any other capacity - people will be more than happy to accept your offer of help," says Potenza. One of her first volunteer activities was to provide networking advice to a nonprofit association.

Potenza's love of kids eventually led her to the Make-A-Wish Foundation and to her community's Junior Achievement program, where she teaches second-graders about their community. Her employer gives her a couple of hours out of the office for the five-week course she teaches once a year.

"I get a lot of support from Lincoln," says Potenza, vice chairwoman of the company's charitable-giving committee, which provides grants to Syracuse nonprofit organizations involved with the arts, education and human services.

Vitiello is a freelance writer in East Brunswick, N.J.

Copyright © 2000 IDG Communications, Inc.

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