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Sac State project will help underserved Sacramento residents improve technology skills

A nearly $3 million federal grant will fund improvements to technology, internet access and more for South Sacramento residents in the Lemon Hill neighborhood with help from Sacramento State undergraduate students. (Sacramento State/Jessica Vernone)

Sacramento State has received nearly $3 million in federal funding to help South Sacramento residents improve their ability to access and use the internet and other technology.

Sac State Associate Vice President for Research, Innovation, and Economic Development Yvonne Harris posing on a black and grey studio background.
Sac State Associate Vice President for Research, Innovation, and Economic Development Yvonne Harris will direct a new Sac State project to bridge the "digital divide" that negatively affects underserved individuals. (Sacramento State/Andrea Price)

The University will work with various community partners to train undergraduate students to assist residents of the Lemon Hill neighborhood who have been left behind as digital technology has evolved.

The pilot project could serve as a national model for bridging the “digital divide” that has negatively affected underserved people, organizers said.

Sac State will oversee a regional partnership with Sacramento City College, Valley Vision, the Greater Sacramento Urban League, and other organizations that will assist residents struggling to keep up with technology that could improve their lives.

Studies have shown that communities with lower incomes and education levels, such as Lemon Hill, are more likely to be without the devices and skills to bring them fully into the digital age.

“Regardless of age, ZIP code, or income level, Sacramentans need to be able to get online,” said Congresswoman Doris Matsui, who recently announced the $2.9 million award from the National Telecommunications Information Administration. “With these federal funds, we are reaching deeper into our community and establishing a powerful new tool grounded in equity and focused on providing for our region’s families.”

The project will train students to become “digital navigator interns” who will connect Lemon Hill residents with vital resources. Among other assistance, they will help residents purchase lower-cost computers and high-speed internet service, guide them in using technology, and demonstrate how it can be used to access health care, education, employment, and other services.

"We want to work within these communities to help improve them.” -- Yvonne Harris, Sac State associate vice president for Research, Innovation, and Economic Development

In addition, Sac State will establish a Community Engagement Lab that will provide community organizations and other participating groups access to broadband internet, computers, and computer training.

Sac State Associate Vice President for Research, Innovation, and Economic Development Yvonne Harris, who will direct the project, called it an important example of the University’s commitment to serve the region.

“This is very much an anchor initiative, an effort to have an impact on the communities that surround us,” Harris said. “We don’t want to work in silos. We want to work within these communities to help improve them.”

“Digital inequity is a real problem, and it’s occurring nationwide,” said Harris, adding the issue was particularly pronounced during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, when many people who were forced to work and study at home lacked the skills and resources to do so.

Online access to physicians and mental health experts has also become increasingly important, Harris noted.

“Lots of doctors are doing online visits now. Taxes are filed online. You can apply for various types of assistance online. All of these things require a certain level of digital proficiency. We are going to help get the right equipment into the hands of folks, and help them use it properly.”

President Robert S. Nelsen said the new project promises to have wide-ranging impact.

“Our work will provide more families with access to broadband and a computer, increase educational attainment, and grow the neighborhood’s economy,” Nelsen said.

Early next year, Sac State will begin recruiting trainees, focusing on students who are bilingual and who grew up in or are familiar with the Lemon Hill area, Harris said.

Training will occur during the summer break. The project will run for two years, with 100 students taking part.

In addition to the satisfaction of helping others, the project will allow digital interns to improve their own online skills and build their resumes, Harris said.

Organizers will use surveys to gauge the project’s impact on Lemon Hill residents.

“We’ll evaluate its effectiveness, and use that to scale the project into other areas,” she said. “We want to see that the project is making a change and moving the needle.”

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About Cynthia Hubert

Cynthia Hubert came to Sacramento State in November 2018 after an award-winning career writing for the Sacramento Bee. Cynthia believes everyone has a good story. She lives in East Sacramento with her two cats, who enjoy bird-watching from their perch next to the living-room window.

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