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Cyberinfrastructure: Moving Beyond Broadband at HBCUs and TCUs

July 28, 2020

NTIA launched the Minority Broadband Initiative (MBI) in November 2019 in partnership with Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs) to work on solving deployment challenges in vulnerable communities.  As part of that ongoing effort, BroadbandUSA’s July webinar, “Cyberinfrastructure: Moving Beyond Broadband at HBCUs and TCUs,” highlighted that cyberinfrastructure – the broader network of technology systems – is a vital component for HBCUs and TCUs to remain competitive in the digital economy. The webinar was moderated by NTIA’s MBI lead, Francine Alkisswani, and Tonya Smith-Jackson, Senior Vice Provost for Academic Affairs at North Carolina A&T State University.

Curtis Bradlee, Acting Chief Information Officer at South Carolina State University, said partnerships with area universities helped to expand SC State’s capabilities. Among these partnerships is C-Light, a statewide direct fiber network managed by Clemson University that provides access to national and international research networks such as Internet2. SC State serves as an access point for other institutions to connect to Internet2, and participated in the National Science Foundation (NSF) CI Empower initiative.

Deborah F. Dent talked about the cloud-based enterprise systems and non-research commodity network backbone at Jackson State University, where she serves as CIO. Jackson State has also leveraged an NSF Campus Cyberinfrastructure (CC*) award grant to build out networking infrastructure. The Mississippi Optical Network, a partnership with the Mississippi Department of Information Technology Services and the Mississippi Research Consortium, provides Jackson State with two 100Gb links to Internet2. Dent spoke about the potential for increased research capabilities this allows and how that might be leveraged to address the digital divide.

Al Kuslikis, Senior Associate for Strategic Initiatives at the American Indian Higher Education Consortium spoke about his organization’s NSF-supported study of the cyberinfrastructure at the 37 TCUs across the country. Kuslikis emphasized the need to build out cyberinfrastructure in order to empower these institutions and access the data necessary for training in disciplines such as environmental and climate science, which enables graduates to provide resilience planning for their communities.

Jason Arviso, Vice President of Operations at Navajo Technical University, spoke about the digital divide between rural and urban areas, and the impact this divide has on the Navajo Nation. TCUs often face a reality in which they receive minimal bandwidth at a high rate relative to other institutions of higher learning. Arviso pointed to the benefits, including working with a carrier on building out cyberinfrastructure, NTU has received as part of an IT consortium with other TCUs. Proposed research networks through the NSF could support several STEM programs at NTU.

The July BroadbandUSA webinar comes after another successful tele-town hall with HBCU students. Hosted by Alkisswani and Elyse Jones of the White House Initiative on HBCUs, 72 White House Initiative Competitiveness Scholars were given the chance to identify barriers to successful distance learning that they were experiencing at their universities. The scholars raised concerns about difficulty navigating different platforms, acquiring a broadband connection, and accessing sufficient devices. Subject matter experts from Tennessee State University, Allen University, and Dillard University were present to provide encouragement, advice, and tools to better empower the students’ at-home learning.

To listen to an archive of the webinar, visit the BroadbandUSA website. BroadbandUSA hosts monthly webinars on broadband access and utilization and digital inclusion. Follow us on Twitter @NTIAgov to learn more and get updates on NTIA and BroadbandUSA’s work.