UH collaborates on $2M grant for broadband outreach, training

October 01, 2010

HOUSTON, Oct. 1, 2010 - A $2 million federal stimulus grant was awarded to fund an innovative broadband outreach and training program targeting Hispanic and minority populations throughout Texas. With major goals of community advancement and economic growth, the grant is a result of a partnership between the Mexican Institute of Greater Houston (MIGH) and the Texas Learning & Computation Center (TLC2) at the University of Houston (UH). MIGH matched the federal funds with an additional $596,000 contribution.

The award is part of a new round of disbursements from the federal government related to the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) authorized by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The BTOP provides grants to support the deployment of broadband infrastructure, enhance and expand public computer centers and encourage sustainable adoption of broadband service. This is the only sustainable adoption grant to a Texas-based institution, and one of only four awards allocated in Texas.

"I'm excited that this funding enables UH to go into Hispanic communities throughout the region to provide technology education for residents who may not otherwise seek it or have access to it," said Lennart Johnsson, professor and director of TLC2. "We are pleased to be in a partnership with a well-known nonprofit that not only has an outstanding track record for the quality of their material and their teachers, but also the success of trainees who complete the program. It is a 'win-win' situation for everyone involved and opens the door to future work with these populations."

According to a 2009 Federal Communications Commission study, only 20 percent of primarily Spanish-speaking residents subscribe to broadband services in the home. Cost, lack of digital literacy and perceived content irrelevance were the main barriers cited. The project with MIGH, titled "Sustainable Broadband Adoption through Training for Hispanic Adults," will utilize MIGH's network of more than 100 community learning centers to conduct training sessions and provide Web-based tutorial assistance in Spanish. The courses comprise 100 hours of classroom instruction in basic digital literacy skills, including how to use e-mail, Microsoft Office and how to conduct Internet searches.

The project will eventually expand into other metropolitan areas of Texas to reach additional minority and English as Second Language (ESL) populations, as well as other economically and socially vulnerable citizens, building upon MIGH's longstanding tradition of success in reaching Hispanic parents through their children's schools.

As a subrecipient, TLC2 is receiving more than half a million dollars of the award to build a distance education portal and databases to use as the basis for the training, which will include online lessons, e-mail addresses for the trainees and a bulletin board with relevant employment opportunities. TLC2 is well suited for this initiative with its expertise in developing and managing educational content, using state-of-the-art technology. There also will be an evaluation component built in by TLC2 that shows the progress of trainees. The center, which is a core support services unit within UH, also will provide invaluable support to MIGH with its experience in administering large federal awards.

"In a globalized 21st century economy, when you don't have regular access to high-speed Internet, you don't have access to all the educational, business and employment opportunities it provides," said U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, who recently announced the BTOP awards in Washington, D.C. "These critical Recovery Act investments will create jobs and lay the groundwork for long-term sustainable economic growth in communities across America."

Adults who complete the program will receive a certificate of completion. The goal is to train 5,600 adults during a three-year period, with an expectation that at least 70 percent of trainees will remain active broadband subscribers. The project will create 75 new jobs and enhance the job skills of thousands of trainees. According to Carlos López, president and executive director of MIGH, family income is expected to increase by an estimated $6,300 per trainee annually. The economic multiplier effect of adding those dollars to the local economy would produce a positive economic impact of $40 million during the project's initial three-year term.

"This is one of many projects in which TLC2 engages to support its outreach goals and UH's commitment to community advancement," said Rosalinda Méndez, associate director of TLC2. "UH aims to fulfill regional and state workforce needs while becoming a primary engine of social, economic and intellectual development."
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About the University of Houston

The University of Houston is a comprehensive national research institution serving the globally competitive Houston and Gulf Coast Region by providing world-class faculty, experiential learning and strategic industry partnerships. UH serves more than 38,500 students in the nation's fourth-largest city, located in the most ethnically and culturally diverse region of the country.

About Texas Learning & Computation Center

The Texas Learning & Computation Center (TLC2) is a broadly scoped unit within the Division of Research at the University of Houston. The center's mission is to foster collaborative interdisciplinary research, education and training to help establish the University of Houston as the next nationally ranked, Tier 1 research institution in Texas. TLC2 provides state-of-the-art computation, visualization and educational facilities to affiliated centers, laboratories and faculty from a range of disciplines, including electrical and computer engineering, computer science, anthropology, psychology, biology, physics and visual studies.

About Mexican Institute of Greater Houston

Founded in 1991, the Mexican Institute of Greater Houston engages Hispanic parents through their children's schools by offering a comprehensive computer technology program in Spanish at its Community Learning Centers at numerous schools in different districts. The institute offers distance learning programs, online training and guidance supported by a network of instructors, online tutors and online curricular materials, allowing participants to prepare to apply for better-paying jobs and receive continuing education. This nonprofit organization has a 15-member board of directors comprised of business leaders from various industries, a seven-member advisory committee and is led by President and Executive Director Carlos J. López.

For more information about UH, visit the university's Newsroom at http://www.uh.edu/news-events/.

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University of Houston

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