Oklahoma State University Institute of Technology Connects Rural Students and Trains Fiber Technicians

Benton Institute for Broadband & Society

Tuesday, August 23, 2022

Digital Beat

Oklahoma State University Institute of Technology Connects Rural Students and Trains Fiber Technicians

Grace Tepper

On July 22, 2022, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s (NTIA) first Connecting Minority Communities Pilot Program (CMC) grants were announced totaling over $10 million in funds for five minority-serving colleges and universities. With $754,970 from the CMC Pilot Program, grant-winner Oklahoma State University Institute of Technology (OSUIT) is expanding efforts to connect and train minority populations through its Investing in Student Success and Increasing Minority Workforce Participation program. This program will be managed through OSUIT’s Workforce & Economic Development department to train fiber optic technicians and provide subsidized broadband service and hotspots for eligible residents.

The Connecting Minority Communities Pilot Program, led by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), is a $268 million-dollar program to provide funds to Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs), and Minority-Serving Institutions (MSIs) for the purchase of broadband internet access service and eligible equipment or to hire and train information technology personnel.

OSUIT is based in Okmulgee, Oklahoma, in the mid-eastern part of the state. OSUIT's student body draws from its surrounding rural communities, including the nearby Muscogee and Cherokee Nations. OSUIT specializes in applied technology education; its mission is to provide comprehensive, high-quality, advancing technology programs and services to prepare and sustain a diverse student body as competitive members of a world-class workforce and contributing members of society.

OSUIT’s Workforce & Economic Development department developed customized training programs for the industry and has developed fiber programs for the Muscogee and Cherokee Nations. In early 2020, two certificate programs were developed for the Cherokee Nation: High Voltage Lineman and Fiber Technician Training. To date, both programs have graduated 127 students with a 98% job placement rate. Additionally, a Fiber Lineman program was developed for the Muscogee Nation Reintegration Program (MN-RIP). This program aims to offer quality reentry services to previously incarcerated Muscogee Nation citizens. Currently, 94 students have successfully completed the MN-RIP Fiber program with a 100% job placement rate. OSUIT will expand on these programs through the implementation of the Investing in Student Success and Increasing Minority Workforce Participation program.

Charles Harrison, Associate Vice President of OSUIT’s Workforce & Economic Development department, believes the program will significantly increase OSUIT’s offerings in fiber optic training and “allows us to provide local community members with broadband services to assist in the pursuit of their educational and career goals.” Harrison added, “by providing fiber-optic training, many individuals will find a career within a field they once thought wasn’t even a possibility, potentially increasing their socio-economic status.”

OSUIT's Investing in Student Success and Increasing Minority Workforce Population program consists of four, two-week courses that altogether equip students with fundamental training as well as advanced skills and the hands-on experience needed to be highly competitive in the telecommunications industry. Through these courses, participants combine classroom theory with hands-on skills training and planning to gain a deeper understanding of every step in the process of a fiber infrastructure buildout.

Even in the rural areas around OSUIT where broadband infrastructure is available, service may not be affordable for residents. And, unfortunately, they may not be aware of or know how to sign up for broadband subsidy programs that would help close that affordability gap.

Program Coordinator Brandon Dinsmore will set up shop at local libraries and community centers to conduct program outreach and help prospective participants apply. “It will be boots-on-the-ground outreach,” said Dinsmore. He also hopes to train staff at community-based agencies to be prepared to distribute information on the program as part of OSUIT's outreach efforts. This is a critical component of the program's overall success; by meeting potential students where they are, OSUIT staff can extend workforce development and broadband affordability opportunities to a broader range of people. According to Dinsmore, OSUIT's fiber optic programs are "training people to deliver the technology to their own or other similar communities.”

While the NTIA award specifies that OSUIT's grant-funded activities must occur within 15 miles of the institute, eligible participants can commute from beyond that boundary and receive training.

Dinsmore said, "This grant opens a pathway for OSUIT to be proactive in addressing the digital divide while also increasing the talent pipeline for Oklahoma's telecommunications industry.” Dinsmore added that “OSUIT welcomes the opportunity to give back to the local community by providing broadband services to individuals who may face barriers that prohibit their access to high-speed internet services."

The Benton Institute for Broadband & Society is a non-profit organization dedicated to ensuring that all people in the U.S. have access to competitive, High-Performance Broadband regardless of where they live or who they are. We believe communication policy - rooted in the values of access, equity, and diversity - has the power to deliver new opportunities and strengthen communities.

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Kevin Taglang

Kevin Taglang
Executive Editor, Communications-related Headlines
Benton Institute
for Broadband & Society
1041 Ridge Rd, Unit 214
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