Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Making Strides: HBCUs Seek Progress on Information Technology Resources

Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Making Strides: HBCUs Seek Progress on Information Technology Resources

Article excerpt

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Since 1980, Dr. Linda Hayden has been able to bring innovation to Elizabeth City State University by seeking out and partnering with entities like the US. Navy and NASA. For years, these partnerships allowed faculty, students and administrators in the computer science department and other departments to gain early exposure to cutting-edge hardware and software tools. With NASA funding, ECSU also served as the lead historically Black campus in assisting several HBCUs in North Carolina and Virginia in establishing campus networks during the 1990s.

As a result, the accumulated experience among ECSU faculty members and staff as well as the integration of cutting-edge tools into the campus IT infrastructure paved the way for the establishment of the Center for Remote Sensing for Education and Research (CERSER), an interdisciplinary research center. Since 2003, CERSER has attracted nearly $10 million in grant support, much of which has gone into establishing high-performance computing resources and advanced information technology laboratories. One outgrowth of CERSER has been its participation in a multi-university research team that conducts remote sensing of ice sheets dose to the North and South Poles.

"We've sent one student to Antarctica on a research trip, and this summer another student and a faculty member are going to Greenland to conduct (global climate change) research," says Hayden, who is the CERSER director.

In the 1990s, it was common to read and hear about HBCUs described as Digital Divide have-nots in a society that was experiencing rapid leaps in computing and the use of the Internet. HBCUs, which have had a long history of struggling to gain adequate funding, did see wealthier, majority White institutions moving quickly ahead in the push for sophisticated campus networks, Web-based distance education programs and use of the Internet as a research and education tool.

A decade later, it's not as common to hear the Digital Divide term applied to HBCUs because of IT struggles. A number of schools are enjoying rich, robust IT infrastructures and can support cuing-edge research and teaching, in part from having advanced IT tools. And for small to mid-size historically Black institutions like Elizabeth City State University, it's become clear that long-range planning, the cultivation of strategic partners, and careful IT investment have proven to be winning strategies. Observers say there's been considerable IT progress among HBCUs since the 1990s, but point out that some campuses still struggle to keep up.

"I think there probably is a divide in some areas. It started out as a case of access that students had to computers. I suspect that it has pretty much gone away with the declining cost of computers, and so students can get access pretty easily," says Dr. Calvin Lowe, the former president of Bowie State University in Bowie, Md.

"There is some disparity with the networking infrastructure. The question of whether a school has a campus-wide wireless network is an example. I think the challenges really fall into the category of enterprise systems and underperforming networks," he adds.

Lowe, a physicist and a vice president at the National Institute of Aerospace in Hampton, Va., presided over Bowie State from 2000 to 2006 when the school gained recognition for building a high-performance cluster of computers developed to handle tasks typically undertaken by expensive supercomputers.

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Stephanie E. Myers, the vice president of the Washington, D.C.-based R.J. Myers Publishing and Consulting Company, led a team of consultants in writing "Historically Black Colleges and Universities: An Assessment of Networking and Connectivity," a study undertaken in 2000 by the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education (NAFEO). The study, which found HBCUs lagging in IT development, became the basis for federal legislation aimed at bridging the technology gap. …

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