Two Arizona tribal colleges will receive grants to improve student internet access

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Diné College and Tohono O’odham Community College have received multi-million dollar grants to support their efforts to improve educational and economic opportunities within their tribal communities by improving internet access, providing more equipment and investing in information technology personnel.

“We knew we needed to expand our services beyond our campuses and centers to the Navajo Nation, and part of this funding will allow us to fund broadband services across the reservation,” said Diné’s IT director. College, Ihab Saleh. in a press release. “We will also invest in our people, because they are the people behind the scenes that make any project work.”

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The grants were awarded by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration of the U.S. Department of Commerce as part of the Connecting Minority Communities pilot program.

“America’s minority-serving colleges and universities are foundational centers of learning that have too often been overlooked when it comes to affordable high-speed Internet access,” said the Assistant Secretary of Commerce, Don Graves, in a press release announcing the awarding of scholarships.

The Connecting Minorities Communities pilot program is reserved for historically black colleges and universities, tribal colleges and universities, and minority-serving institutions to purchase high-speed Internet access service and qualifying equipment or to hire and train IT personnel.

Diné College will receive more than $2.9 million in funding to support the college’s efforts to implement classroom technology upgrades, provide a community technology hub, expand workforce training employment, economic growth, digital literacy skills and internships or apprenticeships

“Diné College remains the nation’s premier tribal college and the institution continues to inspire Navajo students seeking a higher education,” Navajo Nation President Seth Damon said in a press release. “The CONNECT NAVAJO project will provide high-speed internet access to our students who need it most.”

The project aims to improve educational and economic opportunities for the Navajo Nation by improving Internet access, providing more hardware, and investing in computer personnel.

“Access to computers and reliable internet is essential for student success in the classroom,” US Senator Mark Kelly said in a press release. “This grant will ensure Diné College students have access to new laptops, mobile hotspots, printing kiosks, as well as professional development training.”

CONNECT NAVAJO aims to ensure that the Diné can continue to reside at home on the Navajo Nation and benefit from access to technology that helps them earn college degrees and embark on economically rewarding and personally fulfilling careers, according to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration program description.

“Today’s critical funding will make a big difference for students in the Navajo Nation – expanding internet access, improving retention, and moving closer to closing the digital divide,” said U.S. Senator Kyrsten Sinema in a press release. “I am proud to help secure this necessary investment for Diné College.”

Tohono O’odham Community College will receive more than $1.9 million in funding to support the college’s efforts to improve digital literacy skills, workforce training, economic growth and central community technology and upgrades.

The Tohono O’odham Community College project that will receive funding is called Hewel Wepegi Macidag kc, wog, or “Learning the Internet Road.” The project is designed to directly address the lack of broadband access, connectivity, adoption and equity in the college and in the Tohono O’odham Nation.

“The overarching goal of the program is to support the economic development of the Tohono O’odham Nation through digital workforce development, improved community connectivity, and improved computer literacy,” indicates the description of the program.

The Connecting Minorities Communities pilot program was developed as part of the Biden Administration’s Internet for All Initiative which seeks to connect everyone in the United States with reliable and affordable high-speed Internet.

“The Connecting Minority Communities pilot program enables these institutions to be a resource for access, digital skills training and workforce development programs for students and the community to help standardize rules of the economic game,” Graves said.

Five grants have been awarded under the CMC program, totaling over $10.6 million in funding. Grants will be used to fund Internet access and equipment, as well as to hire and train IT staff.

Applications were assessed by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration using a three-step process: Initial administrative and eligibility review of complete application files, merit review and program review.

The review criteria included project purpose, project needs and benefits, project viability and innovation, project budget, and then project evaluation.

These are just the first five grants awarded, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration will continue to review over 200 applications received by the close of applications on December 1, 2021. Awards will be announced on a rolling basis.

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