LIVERMORE -- Move over, Geek Squad. Step back from the Genius Bar, Apple workers. There's a new tech posse in town that plans to take the valley by storm.

The students at Las Positas Technical Support, LaPTechS for short, are the new tech kids on the block, offering affordable computer repairs on campus and beyond.

"It's a business run by the students," instructor Leslie Gravino explained. "We actually repair computers for students, staff and the community."

Las Positas College's technical support program is actually two classes in one. Students in the semester-long class get regular classroom instruction, but they also run and manage a computer repair business.

"We're preparing students for the workforce," Gravino said. "Students are working hands-on with computers in a time-frame to get the work done for customers. Students have to be here on time. They have shifts." The class and business aspects are critical for students, many who are trying to break into information technology (IT) careers. The business forces tech-savvy students to work on their social skills by communicating with customers, Gravino noted.

"A lot of times, very technical people are so into the tech skills that they forget the social skills necessary for getting a job," she said. "They're so good at their technical skills, but it takes some work to bring them out socially." The tech program started as Las Positas in 2000, initially serving college employees and students only. The business model was expanded beyond the campus borders a couple of years ago, but Gravino has no budget to market the program's repair services.

"Our goal is to hook up with a company and do this within a retail setting so that we could have a booth there," Gravino said.

People could drop off their computers to be assessed while the customers shop. Once problems are pinpointed, students would take computers to campus for repairs. Customers would then return to the store to retrieve their repaired computers.

Until that retail dream comes true, she said, "we're here and can beat the prices of (retail) places."

Students charge $20 for each computer repair, which typically takes about two weeks. An expedited service is available for $50. Students work on personal computers only -- no Apples, due to that company's proprietary regulations.

Diana Navarro-Kleinschmidt is among the tech program's many satisfied customers.

"They are amazing," Navarro-Kleinschmidt said. "They're very professional, and they're inexpensive. Twenty bucks; you can't beat that." Navarro-Kleinschmidt, the college's library services specialist, has had two computers repaired through the program. One computer had a virus, while the other had a part that had to be replaced.

"They're so patient when they're telling you what's wrong with your computer," she said. "It's the personalized service I really like, and I really do want to help the students. Cost was just a nice bonus."

Freshman Matt Norton, 18, ultimately wants to get a degree in computer science, so he hopes the tech program will help him land an IT job to help pay his college bills.

"I enjoy working on the computers and fixing problems," Norton said. "On the learning side, it helps a lot being able to do the work yourself after going through a seminar. It helps to do the hands-on work because I'm more of a kinesthetic learner." Learning to fix computers by actually working on them gives students a more realistic learning situation than they'd get by merely solving problems on a worksheet, Norton noted.

"It's more dynamic because different computers come in with different problems," he said. "Many times, it's a new problem every single time you get a new computer." Norton is representative of many of the tech program's students -- young and male -- but the program also draws older people who've been laid off or are looking for career changes, Gravino said.

"That's the beauty of the whole thing," Gravino said. "We just had a guy who came in who's middle-aged and got downsized, and then we have students who are right out of high school. There are more males than females, but the age range is 18 to 60 or older.

"The cool thing is to see the young people show the older people how to do things on the computer, but the older people know more about the workforce and how to deal with customers."

Gravino is eager to spread the word about the program in hopes of luring more customers and ultimately expanding the program.

"It's been a great service to the college and community because we offer really affordable prices to get their computers repaired," she said. "We are way less expensive than if you took your computer to (a retail store), and we get very good feedback from our customers."

If you'd like the tech program students to assess and repair your computer, contact Gravino at 925-424-1876 or lgravino@laspositascollege.edu.

TECH HELP
To have a tech program student assess and repair your computer, contact Leslie Gravino at 925-424-1876 or lgravino@laspositascollege.edu.