Saturday Academy and Microsoft: Opening Doors for Children

Organization Information:

Organization Name:
Friends of Saturday Academy dba Saturday Academy
City & State:
Organization Website:
Organization's Mission Statement

Saturday Academy's mission is to inspire young people to explore their world through hands-on learning with community experts and professionals. We strive to make our experiences available to all students who seek them and to affirmatively reach out to those who might not otherwise participate. We value all learning, but emphasize the sciences, especially engineering, technology and health science, because of the rapid rate of change in these fields and their essential role in modern life.

Submission Information

Impact Essay

Saturday Academy’s goal is to reinforce the joy of learning, assist young people in developing intellectually and help them prepare for rewarding careers. We achieve this by giving kids opportunities unavailable to them anywhere else: high school students do cancer research with world-renowned research doctors, middle school students use scanning electron microscopes to learn about nanotechnology from leading professors, and elementary students learn to program robots from a professional computer programmer. To provide these experiences, SA collaborates with nonprofits, government, schools, and industry.


SA began in 1983 as a program of the Oregon Graduate Institute and from July 2001 to September 2006 was a self-supporting program of Portland State University. On October 1, 2006, SA made the transition to become an independent 501(c)(3) organization. Upon becoming independent SA adopted a strategic plan to double the number of students served to 10,000 per year and triple the number of low-income students served by our programs. In the past 26 years we have served nearly 150,000 2nd-12th grade students in Oregon and SW Washington.


As a program of Portland State University for five years, SA was fortunate enough to have access to a stable and secure technological infrastructure. Upon transitioning to an independent organization in 2006, SA was faced with the challenge of expanding on that existing infrastructure in order to increase our effectiveness to serve our community’s youth. The acquisition of two Microsoft Windows server products has been particularly beneficial for maximizing staff efficiency. The terminal server licensing and remote access features of Windows Small Business Server, such as Remote Web Workplace, have greatly enhanced the internal operations of SA by allowing staff to perform many job functions remotely. The nature of our work requires access to class information even when severe weather or other conditions make it impossible to work in the office. For example, inclement weather forced many local businesses and nonprofits to temporarily suspend operations this past winter. However, SA employees were able work as normal from their homes. Program staff quickly contacted students informing them of class cancelations and delays, rescheduling issues, and changes in class locations. The ability to work remotely enabled our organization to continue to function and serve its mission when we ordinarily would have been at a standstill.


SA classes are often held at times outside regular office hours. As a result, it is not unusual to get calls pertaining to our programs on the weekend or after hours when the office is closed. Using remote access allows staff called for emergencies to log on remotely and get contact information, enrollment status, and other important details enabling staff to address concerns as they arise. In addition, employees who are sick, have a sick child or are unable to travel can still communicate with instructors, families or site coordinators regardless of their access to the office or hosting site. This allows for fast response to families, students and instructors which strengthens our ability to serve our community and fulfill our mission.


Microsoft Access was used internally to develop an extensive database which SA relies on daily for business operations for all of our programs, marketing and fundraising efforts, and general administration. Portland State University could not support a migration to an SQL server to allow further expansion of our database. As a result we were unable to house information for all of our programs on the database we had at that time. However, knowing that we would be able to move to an SQL after becoming independent allowed us to begin incorporating both of our programs into Access. Combining these databases has increased fluidity and interaction between different branches of the organization. We now have complete records of students who participate in both programs as well as information on all volunteers and staff in one convenient place. The transition to SQL server should be complete by June 30, 2009, dramatically improving accessibility to vital information as well as reducing duplicate entry work.

New server software at our Capital Center lab, one of SA’s most popular teaching venues, allows the students to work collaboratively in a networked environment. Students can share files and work collectively on projects across the network. It also enabled SA to have more than 10 computers connected simultaneously in the lab which means every student has access to a computer. The server software and domain network also allow us to manage and update the lab computers remotely—this allows us to update the lab configuration quickly and efficiently with new programs so the students get cutting-edge educational materials. This is particularly beneficial because the Capital Center lab is over ten miles away from the main SA offices. Information technology support staff can work on updates without incurring large amounts of travel time and expense saving SA valuable time and money.

SA uses mobile computer classrooms to allow technical classes to be taught to students whether or not the hosting site is able to offer computer lab use. Students learn programming, engineering, robotics, design, animation, math, and other cutting-edge topics through hands-on computer projects. We recently acquired a mobile Macintosh laptop classroom to allow even more of these classes to be offered as well as to maximize the exposure of students to the Mac world which is more common in design and animation fields. This acquisition also mitigates the extreme difficulty of getting Mac labs at host sites, most of which are PC-based, and encourages instructors who are more comfortable with a Mac platform to teach for us. The donation of Office for Mac through TechSoup allowed us to immediately equip our new Mac lab with word processing and other software to supplement design and programming software installed on the laptops. The lab will be deployed in classroom environments as early as this summer and will continue into the future potentially serving thousands of children over the coming years.


Microsoft technologies have greatly increased staff efficiency and organizational reach enabling Saturday Academy to do what we do best: ignite children’s natural curiosity and love of learning by providing them with hands-on education taught by community experts and professionals. Our quality of service to the children and families in our community has been significantly enhanced, fueling new growth. In fact, enrollment rates have gone up 19.4 percent since 2006. Our ability to provide innovative educational enrichment to students is dependent on the quality of our infrastructure. We are grateful for the opportunity to strengthen that infrastructure with Microsoft products through TechSoup.

Submission Category
Optimize Mission Delivery