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How Apogee Helped An HBCU Partner Bridge the Digital Divide

October 7, 2021

By Teresa de Onis

At Apogee, we get so excited when we gain a new college or university partner, but it is especially uplifting when we gain a new HBCU (historically Black college or university) partner. This week we announced our sixth HBCU partner, Saint Augustine’s University, based in Raleigh, NC. HBCUs have been historically underfunded, so we relish the opportunity to help them use their limited resources wisely to deliver enhanced technology experiences that can make all the difference in student outcomes.

SAU had turned to Apogee this summer to design, build, install, and manage a new wireless infrastructure in the school’s eight residence halls, clubhouse, and library to fulfill its promise of improved student connectivity. Last week, soon after implementing the new Apogee ResNet, SAU president Dr. Christine Johnson McPhail announced the school would be online only for a week to ensure the safety and health of the campus community. The ability to protect the health of students and faculty with an online-only week and deliver a positive experience under a stressful situation would not have been possible without the partnership with Apogee.

And, as this situation shows, despite increased vaccination rates and campuses following CDC guidelines, the pandemic is still a threat to a consistent learning experience. Strong connectivity that supports blended learning modalities makes these temporary transitions to online learning easier and more likely to be successful, and it paves the way to innovate pedagogically to meet students where they are. We often say that the residence hall is now a classroom, and this past week at SAU has proven that it can be a powerful option when the wellness and safety of students and faculty is of utmost concern. SAU can also prioritize the delivery of online learning instead of worrying about bandwidth, student support calls, and other operational headaches that come with the delivery of Wi-Fi to demanding students.

SAU leaders had a sense of urgency to improve campus life with cutting-edge Wi-Fi beyond being prepared for blended learning and potential online-only periods. The Digital Divide affects Black and Hispanic students to a greater degree than White students. Pew Research found that Black and Hispanic adults in the U.S. are less likely than White adults to have a traditional computer and home broadband, by a whopping gap of 13 and 15 points, respectively. The FCC has acknowledged that the pandemic created a stress test for HBCUs and that HBCUs are discovering “trouble spots” with limited connectivity, hampering students’ educations. To deliver an improved campus experience, SAU knew it needed to close the connectivity gap on campus.

Before the upgrade, students regularly experienced speed, connectivity, and bottleneck issues, particularly during high-traffic times of day, resulting in a “first come, first served” Wi-Fi experience. These problems were compounded during the pandemic shift to blended learning, where intensifying connectivity demands derailed class quality and threatened learning outcomes. SAU campus leaders were determined to improve things for their students, and now 1,000 SAU Falcons have an exceptional Wi-Fi experience across all residence halls and two campus hubs – the Falkcrest Clubhouse and Prezell R. Robinson Library – ensuring reliable, blazing-fast connectivity for on-campus residents and commuter students alike.

Apogee stands ready to support HBCUs in their efforts to deliver the connectivity that students need to thrive. And we are thrilled that the FCC has begun coordinating with the National Telecommunications and Information Agency (NTIA) as it begins the work of its new Office of Minority Broadband Initiative, which is putting in motion the funds Congress dedicated to helping close the Digital Divide in minority communities, including HBCU campuses and surrounding areas.

To learn more about how Apogee partners with HBCUs, I invite you to listen to Episode 1 of our Modern Campus Podcast “Equality, Equity, Systemic Racism—and HBCUs,” here or wherever you get your podcasts.

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