Rutgers-Newark to use $2.8M grant to help increase digital equity throughout campus, city

Rutgers University – Newark has been awarded a $2.8 million grant to increase digital equity in the city of Newark and on campus, the school announced last week.

Rutgers-Newark as one of 93 universities chosen by the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration for its Connecting Minority Communities pilot program. The department awarded the schools a total of $175 million.

(Felician University also was selected, receiving a $2.3 million grant.)

The program is intended to help close the gap on internet access. In a statistic many may find hard to believe, more than 24 million Americans still don’t have high-speed internet access.

Rutgers-Newark aims to lower that number with a program would expand broadband access to underserved communities, teach computer literacy skills and help train Newark residents and Rutgers-Newark students for careers in tech service.

Rutgers-Newark’s program, called “Creating Connections: Building Equitable Access to Broadband in Newark through Public-Private Collaborations,” aims to enhance digital infrastructure and equitable access in Newark, in addition to expanding campus Wi-Fi and upgrading the school’s technology resources.

Amber Randolph, Rutgers-Newark senior vice chancellor for administration, economic development, and chief financial officer, said the school intends to make use of the award to make a collective impact on the city.

“An important objective is to maximize our campus footprint to bring equitable broadband access to residents who live nearby,” she said.

Additional goals include working with the New Jersey Department of Corrections’ residential community reintegration programs to provide technological devices, such as laptops, tablets, mobile phones and desktop computers, and digital literacy skills to incarcerated residents.

The Rutgers-Newark plan also aims to help Newark residents and students gain access to career training that will allow them to compete in the tech and telecom industry and will deliver digital literacy training and devices to community members.

Rutgers-Newark officials said the effort includes partnerships with city of Newark, Newark Alliance, Teknogrid, Invest Newark, Urban League of Essex County, State Department of Corrections, Kite and Key, the Newark School of Data Science & Information Technology and a number of other Rutgers-Newark administrative and academic departments.

“Rutgers-Newark’s digital equity program will build upon the work the city of Newark is undertaking to increase access and service to all residents,” Aaron Meyerson, Invest Newark’s chief innovation economy officer and broadband director, said. “As a city, we’re looking at connectivity as a whole, but focusing on those most in need.

“What’s great about a university partner is they pay particular attention to the development of the community and the students they serve. They’re using this opportunity to align with the city’s connectivity and educational programs. They’re using their own facilities as a training bed for this work. That’s a unique thing to see.”