Fighting the Digital Divide in Philadelphia: ‘Everything Is at Stake’

with Youngmoo Kim, Ph.D. of Drexel University

The COVID-19 pandemic put a spotlight on the need for access to the Internet, devices, and the skills to use them. Youngmoo Kim, Ph.D., Vice Provost for University and Community Partnerships at Drexel University, talks with Dara Brown at Net Inclusion 2024 in Philadelphia about Drexel’s longstanding commitment to digital equity through community engagement and partnerships.

Highlighting the importance of digital equity, Kim says, “When we talk about the digital divide … and those who have access to broadband Internet and devices and technology, and those who don't, everything is at stake.”

Posted on:

March 29, 2024

Produced by: National Newsmakers Team

Brown: Over the past few years, major technology shifts have changed the way adults seek employment and how students learn, making it essential to own a computer. Hello, I'm Dara Brown. This is "Getting Connected," powered by Comcast Newsmakers. We're here today at the Net Inclusion 2024 Conference in Philadelphia. Joining me is Dr. Youngmoo Kim. He is the Vice Provost for University and Community Partnerships at Drexel University. Dr. Kim, thank you for joining me.

Dr. Kim: It's my pleasure.

Brown: What is at stake for communities here at Drexel?

Dr. Kim: Well, really when we talk about the digital divide, right, and those who have access to broadband internet and devices and technology and those who don't, everything is at stake, right? When you talk about young people in school, we saw this through the pandemic. Of course if you didn't have home broadband internet and a device through which to access a virtual classroom, you were cut off from education opportunities, right? If you talk about people who are a little bit later in life, young professionals, right, who might be applying for a job which you have to do online. It might be doing some research about that job, might be having to interview for that job fully online. Without broadband connections and without devices, you're just cut off from those opportunities. So really, we're talking about things that touch everyone's lives and can really last throughout their entire careers as well.

Brown: How is Drexel breaking down the barriers?

Dr. Kim: So Drexel has actually been involved around digital equity issues for many decades. We were the first university to require all of our students to have access to a personal computer. That was 40 years ago, in 1984. So we have long had a belief that understanding technology, understanding computing is going to have profound impact on your professional development and your career opportunities like that. So, since then, we've been involved in many different efforts. We were the first campus to actually go fully Wi-Fi across the campus. About 15 years ago, we partnered with others around the city, including the city itself, on the Philly KEYSPOT Project, which opened up several dozen community computing centers that were free access to all Philadelphians to get access to devices and get on the Internet. And then, most recently, right, due the pandemic, we helped start a Digital Navigators Team here at Drexel, which provides residents with technical support. They can call in, they can text in, get answers to questions, get advice and guidance about connecting to the Internet at low or no cost as well. And also provide training on digital skills, as well as access to low-cost devices as well.

Brown: Can you talk about your program's civic commitment?

Dr. Kim: Absolutely. This is all built on our commitment to civic engagement. In fact, our president, John Fry, said it best. He aspires for Drexel to be the most civically engaged university in the country. That means that we want to be the most connected to our communities, understanding and working in partnership with our neighbors and neighborhood organizations to solve problems and to address people's needs in the real world, right? There are a lot of places or a lot of folks who think about universities as a place where you, you know, study, you theorize, you think deep thoughts, you don't really do the work. We're the exact opposite, right? We want to be heavily involved and engaged. And through our efforts, we've done education partnerships, certainly around digital skills and training as we've just discussed. And then we actually have a university extension center in West Philadelphia called the Dornsife Center for Neighborhood Partnerships, which offers free services to community members, including digital skills training but also things like a free legal clinic and health and wellness training as well.

Brown: And what about your success stories?

Dr. Kim: Well, through the Digital Navigators Program and our associated digital skills programs, we've had dozens of residents of Philadelphia who have gone through a digital skill training course -- that's called NorthStar Program. If they complete that course, which takes a couple of hours, right, a little bit of work, then they're eligible for a free laptop. And we've given out dozens of laptops, actually close to a hundred, through that program. Our team has also collected hundreds of computers from Drexel and other organizations that were going to be decommissioned, discarded, refurbished those and then give them out for free -- distributed them for free to community members and organizations in Philadelphia. We've given out over 500 computers at this stage and we're not slowing down.

Brown: Dr. Youngmoo Kim, thank you so much for joining us.

Dr. Kim: It's my pleasure.

Brown: And thanks to you as well for watching. For more conversations about digital equity and broadband expansion, visit I'm Dara Brown. ♪♪ ♪♪

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