Resources from the 2023 Northeast Digital Equity Summit

The Northeast Digital Equity Summit, which took place September 19, 2023, provided an opportunity for land-grant University educators and researchers across the Northeast region to learn from one another and expand capacity for digital equity programming in the Northeast. Recordings and slides from the event are now available. Thank you to our Summit Planning Team!

Use the links below to access recordings, slides, and resources shared.

To join the Northeast Region discussion group, add your contact info to this page, and feel free to reach out to others who have shared theirs. 

Morning Plenary Session

Digital Equity 101 

  • Roberto Gallardo, Purdue University

Digital equity is a relatively new term. However, its implications are broader than the more specific digital divide. This presentation will define digital equity and show how it interacts with the digital divide, digital inclusion, and above all, community development. 

Enhancing Digital Equity: Empowering Communities Through Extension Programs

  • Rachel Welborn, Southern Regional Rural Development Center & National Digital Extension Education Team (NDEET)
  • Kenneth Sherin, North Carolina State Extension Broadband Access and Education Coordinator 

This session underscored the significance of addressing the digital skill divide and leveraging Extension programs’ resources to empower individuals and communities with the necessary digital skills for personal growth and professional success. These initiatives will represent crucial steps toward creating a more equitable and digitally inclusive society. Rachel discussed the National Digital Volunteer Model which aims to harness the existing infrastructure of Land Grant Universities and the Digital Skills Toolkit, which will provide essential resources to empower individuals with digital skills. Kenneth shared insights from the NC State Extension project aimed at expanding digital skills in North Carolina. The project aims to hire digital skills agents in various counties and provide training to existing agents to host digital skills educational opportunities. 

Closing the Digital Skill Divide and Empowering Workers for the Future: Best Practices, Lessons Learned and Suggestion for Improvement 

  • Amanda Bergson-Shilcock, National Skills Coalition 
  • Lo Smith, National Digital Inclusion Alliance
  • Vernelle Mitchell-Hawkins, University of Maryland Extension

This session shed light on the pressing issue of the digital skill divide and explored potential solutions and initiatives to equip workers with the necessary skills to thrive in the evolving job market. 

Amanda Bergson-Shilcock highlighted the significant demand for digital skills in today’s labor market through a report titled “Closing the Digital Skill Divide”. This demand is consistent across various industries, and it is noteworthy that even small businesses actively seek workers with technology skills, on par with their larger counterparts.

Lo Smith from NDIA shared preliminary findings from their working group discussion, which aims to explore how various stakeholders are delivering digital skills training. This discussion investigates different approaches and initiatives to address the digital skill divide.

Vernelle Mitchell-Hawkins is a Senior Agent/4-H Educator with University of Maryland Extension and leads the FarmerTech, which aims to bridge the gap by having youth teach farmers how to use technology and software essential to their jobs and livelihoods. This program adopts a “Teens as Teachers” model, empowering young people to transfer their digital knowledge to older generations.

Concurrent Session #1

Year Two Findings from a Cornell Cooperative Extension Digital Literacy Mentoring Program in a Rural Community Resistant to Change  

  • Kathryn Leach, Digital Literacy Program Coordinator, Cornell Cooperative Extension of Orleans County 

The Orleans Digital Literacy Initiative (ODLI) is a Cornell Cooperative Extension Orleans County program, involving nonprofit & government partners, volunteer mentors, and was developed from 2020 research on local digital equity barriers. Tech mentoring, classes, and community engagement began 2021. Program data provides lessons in engaging a rural community resistant to change.

Penn State Extension’s Digital Literacy & Equity Pilot – KeyTakeaways and Lessons Learned from Building Community Partnerships and Delivering Basic Computer Workshops with Senior Populations

  • Cristy Halerz Schmidt, MPPM – Applied Research Educator, Penn State Extension
  • Bertram Johnson – Education Program Specialist, Penn State Extension

In January 2023, the Pennsylvania Broadband Development Authority contracted Penn State Extension to deliver a series of activities in support of Broadband Availability, Access, Equity, and Utilization. As such, our Digital Equity Working Group had the opportunity to pilot a small number of digital literacy and equity programs across the Commonwealth within a six-month time frame. From January to June 2023, the pilot project leveraged Penn State Extension’s positionality and resources a trusted educators in each of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties to form community partnerships, develop curriculum, deliver a series of digital literacy workshops, and raise awareness about the Affordable Connectivity Program for individuals with little to no experience using a computer and meet the Digital Equity Act’s definition of “Covered Populations”. This presentation discussed our guiding values, the pilot program process, key takeaways and lessons learned, as well as our strategies to expand our work moving forward.

Baltimore Community Efforts Toward Sociotechnical Justice 

  • Xanthe Matychak, Director of Tech Extension at Digital Harbor Foundation (DHF)
  • Foad Hamidi, Assistant Professor in the Information Systems Department at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) and director of the Designing Participatory Futures (DARE) Lab
  • Erin Higgins, Human Centered Computing PhD student and research assistant at UMBC
  • Samantha “Sam” Musgrave, Director of Project Waves at DHF
  • Rob Moore, Director of Tech Center at Digital Harbor Foundation

This session will be a discussion among Baltimore community organizers and academics working together toward technological and social justice will address issues of building and maintaining university-community partnerships, aspects of local infrastructure that reinforce inequity, collaborative projects uniting multiple forms of expertise, and signs of progress in their work.

Concurrent Session #2

Digital Equity Survey Mapping Project 

  • Amber Ternus 
  • Marceline Kanalaupuni-Naff 
  • Arthur Buto 
  • Issa Moffet 
  • Philip Beilin 
  • Burt Lum

The Hawaii Broadband Digital Equity Office, or HBDEO, was created as a response to increasing needs of digital services during Covid-19. Covid-19 helped us all realize that, in the Digital Age, broadband had become a necessity. However, HBDEO was not alone in pursuit of those lofty goals. During this time, a grassroots community organization committed to digital equity in action was born. They call themselves the Broadband Hui. Headed by Burt Lum, the Broadband Hui focused on bringing community leaders together to achieve similar goals to HBDEO. The Broadband Hui members began organizing and launching a wide variety of campaigns, classes, workshops, training sessions, and device distributions. While at first, operating under Covid 19 restrictions, these resources were primarily online, more and more in-person outreach events became possible as lockdown winded to a close.

Effective Partnership for Digital Equity: Lessons and Best Practices from the University of Maryland Extension (UME) Digital Navigation Program

  • Orga Vishnu Desai, UME, Digital Navigation Program Manager
  • Maria Barga, UME Tech Extension Educator
  • Lee Reed, Southern Maryland
  • Tracy Oliver- Keyser, Housing Authority of Baltimore City

The panel presented data, lessons learned and best practices on extension partnerships with external stakeholders including local government, libraries, community organizations and non-profit organizations in increasing awareness about the Affordable Connectivity Program and supporting community members enroll for the relevant benefits.

Empowering Digital Equity: Digital Navigation through Human-I-T’s Innovative Approach and Data-Driven Insights

  • Charles Pellicane, Executive Vice President Business Development, Human IT
  • Adam Sharma, Human IT

In this presentation, learn about the experience of Human IT in program implementation with a focus on digital navigation and how to best perform assessments that drive the data you and your funders/partners desire.

Closing Session — Discussion and follow-up

During the closing session, participants reflected on what they learned and discussed how to keep the conversation going in the Northeast region, especially. 

Thank you to our Digital Equity Summit Planning Team!

  • Peter Wulfhorst, Penn State Extension
  • Cristy Schmidt, Penn State Extension
  • Isaias Y Tesfalidet, University of Maryland Extension
  • Jesse M. Ketterman, University of Maryland Extension
  • Paul Treadwell, Cornell Cooperative Extension

We are also indebted to several people who are providing Zoom and technical support during the Summit, including:

  • Neal Fogle, Penn State Extension
  • John Turack, Penn State Extension
  • Yashi Sinha, University of Maryland Extension
  • Gunakshi Sharma, University of Maryland Extension
  • Pruthvi Shyam Billa, University of Maryland Extension