Johnson C. Smith University will use a $5.7 million federal grant to upgrade its technology systems and to provide 5G internet service to its campus and surrounding community, the university announced Monday.
The grant, from the U.S. Department of Commerce National Telecommunications and Information Administration, is the largest federal grant the school has received in its 156-year history.
In a statement, JCSU board Chairman Steven L. Boyd said access to efficient technology is vital in today’s information age.
“Not only is it imperative that we provide stable, highspeed internet access for our students, staff, and faculty, but we have a commitment to the surrounding community,” he said. “This grant will provide the resources necessary to build the infrastructure required to connect the community to the economic, health, and personal opportunities available in this great city.”
Why it matters: The grant comes at a time when JCSU, aided by the Mayor’s Racial Equity Initiative, is investing to improve its academic standing.
Under that initiative, local donors and Charlotte’s city government have committed a combined $8 million to assist JCSU’s growth. Driving that effort is a five-year framework the university has dubbed its Gold(en) Blueprint, a reference to the school’s gold and blue colors.
In reference to the federal grant, Boyd said, “A grant of this size is reflective of the tailwinds we are experiencing as we continue our transformation journey.”
JCSU’s chief information officer, John Norris, told QCity Metro that after the network is fully integrated onto campus, the university plans to expand the connection into the community via physical modems within five miles of the campus. The federal funds will allow the school to buy the modems, which Norris said the surrounding community will be able to connect to for free.
JCSU also plans to invite the community onto campus for “workforce development training,” Norris said, adding that the university is working with community partners, including Goodwill, City Startup Labs, Urban Lague, and Carolina Fintech.
JCSU joins 21 other historically Black universities to get funding under the government’s Connecting Minority Communities Pilot Program. From a pool of $250 million in federal funds, the HBCUs will get $69.2 million.
How it happened
JCSU applied for the federal grant in December 2001, three years after the campus hosted a Carolinas Alliance for Success in Education (CASE) summit, where discussions initially began about digital development and economic growth at HBCUs.
One year later, in 2019, the CASE summit grew to include officials from the White House Initiative on HBCUs, along with other federal, state and local leaders.
Those discussion eventually lead to the launch of a Minority Broadband Initiative that would leverage partnerships with HBCUs and minority-serving institutions to bridge the digital divide on HBCU campuses and in their surrounding communities.
According to Pew Research Center data, “Racial minorities and those with lower levels of education and income are less likely to have broadband service at home.”
In Charlotte, city leaders have identified the Beatties Ford Road corridor, which includes Historic West End and neighborhoods surrounding JCSU, as lagging other parts of the city in broadband access.
“With these technological updates, more residents of the Historic West End will be connected to internet resources, which can aid in job searches, telehealth opportunities and more for the residents who need these resources the most,” JCSU said in a statement announcing the federal grant.
QCity Metro Publisher Glenn H. Burkins contributed to this report.