Rutgers-Newark awarded $2.8M to advance digital equity

Jessica Perry//March 6, 2023

Rutgers-Newark awarded $2.8M to advance digital equity

Jessica Perry//March 6, 2023

New federal funding will allow Rutgers University-Newark to increase digital equity on campus and throughout the state’s largest city.

Last week, Vice President Kamala Harris announced Rutgers was one of 93 universities nationwide selected for the Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s Connecting Minority Communities Pilot Program. As part of the initiative, RU-N will receive a $2.8 million grant. Altogether, the federal government will dole out $175 million in awards.

In Newark, the funding will go toward expanding broadband access to underserved communities, to teach computer literacy skills and to help train residents and RU-N students for careers in the tech space, according to the university.

“We intend to use the award to make a collective impact on the city,’’ Amber Randolph, Rutgers-Newark senior vice chancellor for administration, economic development and chief financial officer, said in a statement. Randolph is also principal investigator of the grant.

Within New Jersey, Felician University was also chosen as part of the Connecting Minority Communities Pilot Program. In a statement, Gov. Phil Murphy praised the efforts of both schools.

“As has proven particularly important over the past several years, providing equitable access to the internet and technological equipment is crucial to ensuring the success of our students,” Murphy said. “The grants … will ensure greater access to these resources on behalf of countless students from disadvantaged backgrounds.”

Creating connections

At Rutgers, the Creating Connections: Building Equitable Access to Broadband in Newark through Public-Private Collaborations effort aims to take advantage of the school’s size to offer benefits to the community.

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

Partners on that work will include: the 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, in addition to a number of other Rutgers-Newark administrative and academic departments, the school said.

“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,” said Aaron Meyerson, Invest Newark’s chief innovation economy officer and broadband director.

For example, at the Department of Corrections the program will work with the residential community reintegration program to offer physical technology – laptops, tablets, mobile phones and desktop computers – in addition to digital literacy skills to incarcerated residents. In the community, residents and students will have access to career training, as well as digital literacy training and the physical technology, so that they can compete in the tech and telecom industry.

“As a city we’re looking at connectivity as a whole, but focusing on those most in need,’’ Meyerson added.

“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’’ he continued. “That’s a unique thing to see.”