IBM staffer, Brazilian kids will learn from each other

By Elliot Mann

Post-Bulletin, Rochester MN

For Grant Wheeler, it’s all about the moment when a child’s face lights up, even if that takes him across the world.

Wheeler, of Rochester, left Friday for Sao Paulo, Brazil, where he and about a dozen other IBM employees will help 11- to 16-year-olds learn how to use word processing and spreadsheet programs, among other basic computer skills.

More than 5,000 "high-potential" employees worldwide applied to the program; 300 received a spot this round. Wheeler is the lone Rochester participant. The program is billed as a corporate version of the Peace Corps and is in its second year.


During their month of service, the employees will blog their progress.

Once they learn about computers, the children will begin a project to help their neighborhood. A project last year targeted better garbage collection, with the children creating e-mails, memos and presentations for community members and business leaders.

Eventually, they achieved their goal, Wheeler said.

Helping out children isn’t uncharted territory for Wheeler, who helps out with science demonstrations in his daughter Alexis’s Gage Elementary classroom. He has also volunteered with Lego Robotics, helping local teens with basic engineering and computer programming principles.

At first, the children scratch their heads, but eventually their eyes light up and their energy takes over, he said.

"I really get a lot of pleasure out of that," Wheeler said. "And for me it’s an opportunity to work with a different culture."

Prior to departure, the IBM teams engaged in three months of preparatory work. They learned about local customs and culture, in addition to each other.

Other IBM employees are being sent to Ghana, Vietnam, the Philippines, Romania and Tanzania. IBM is now expanding the program to include Brazil, China, Malaysia and South Africa.


Wheeler, 38, spent two years in Argentina on a mission trip almost 20 years ago and wanted to again travel to Latin America.

"Children are the future of the country, and this will help their growth and progress," he said. "I’m just excited to have the opportunity to go."

For more information, go to

Weblinks: The IBM Corporate Peace Corps blog,

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