RALEIGH – Two North Carolina universities are among 12 across the nation that will receive federal grants from the United States Department of Commerce under the Connecting Minority Communities Pilot Program.

The grants were awarded to St. Augustine’s University in Raleigh and Elizabeth City State University in Elizabeth City, North Carolina.

Across all 12 grants, the federal government will provide more than $33.5 million to expand community technology hubs, upgrade classroom technology and increase digital literacy skills, according to a statement.

“High-speed Internet service is going to create opportunities, increase productivity, and improve lives, particularly in communities that have too often been left behind.” said U.S. Deputy Secretary of Commerce Don Graves at an event on Monday announcing the grantees.  “At the Commerce Department, we’re committed to seeing investments from initiatives like the Connecting Minority Communities program create opportunities for good jobs supported by equitable hiring, fair compensation, safe workplaces, and the tools and training needed for long-term success.”

St. Augustine’s University will receive nearly $2 million to implement its proposed program, and Elizabeth City State University will receive more than $2.1 million to implement its project.  St. Augustine has already partnered with Apple.

“The Internet is essential for access to work, to education, to healthcare, and to justice,” said Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information Alan Davidson in a statement. “Our Connecting Minority Communities program is about equipping students and the surrounding communities with the skills, the devices, and the capacity needed to reap the full benefits of our digital economy.”

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Broadband upgrade and digital equity initiative

According to the statement, Saint Augustine’s University’s project is known as the “University Broadband Upgrade and Digital Equity Initiative” and “aims to increase Internet bandwidth capacity and connectivity at SAU and build digital literacy skills to promote digital equity within the SAU campus and anchor communities.” The project activities include:

  1. Upgrade existing broadband facilities and resources to increase Internet bandwidth capacity and create a digital navigator program. Digital navigators will assist community members in Internet adoption and the use of computing devices.

  2. In a partnership with an IT MBE, a Cybersecurity Program will be established to maintain a critically needed cybersecurity program, ward against cyber-attacks and data breaches and improve stewardship of SAU’s digital assets (e.g., student records, financial information, human subject research).

  3. SAU will transform traditional classrooms into smart classroom environments.

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Strengthening capacity and digital equity

At Elizabeth City State University, the project to be implemented is called “Strengthening Broadband Capacity to Amplify Educational Opportunities and Foster Digital Inclusion in Rural and Underserved Communities.”  According to a statement, it “aims to bridge the digital divide and amplify educational opportunities and workforce development to ensure that university students and residents of the surrounding anchor communities have access to the opportunity to compete in today’s workforce.”

That means that the university will seek to support on campus and remote learners, and the project includes:

  1. Expand the current network to bring connectivity to outdoor spaces and areas used within the proximity of the campus to deliver instruction.

  2. Integrate advanced simulation tools supported through high-speed broadband connectivity to expose students to industry needed technical skills in the curriculum.

  3. Provide broadband access and computing devices to students pursuing field experiences and online courses.

  4. Increase digital skills and STEM knowledge through specialized K-12 programs.

  5. Develop new or redesign existing STEM outreach programs.

  6. Conduct IT professional development for faculty, students, staff, and interested individuals