Through coursework and volunteer projects at GSLIS, I became involved with the Urbana Champaign Big Broadband Project. This was a federally funded BTOP/ARRA project in which the cities of Champaign and Urbana and the University of Illinois worked together to build a community-wide gigabit broadband network.
My primary interest in the project was in the community implications of the network and its potential to address digital divide and digital literacy issues and provide a platform for better collaboration and communication between community organizations. I initially became involved through my Introduction to Community Informatics course, where my final project was to work with Bristol Place Metanoia Centers, a neighborhood-based community organization in North Champaign, to help them develop a broadband plan to take advantage of the opportunities afforded by the coming community network. I attended public Policy and Technical Committee meetings in the course of doing my research for that project, and eventually the opportunity to serve on a newly-formed Marketing and Outreach Committee arose.
My commitments as a student and my lack of experience in a city government context meant that I didn’t play a prominent role on the committee, but it was an excellent learning experience about how large municipal and institutional technology projects work and how to participate in them effectively as a citizen and professional. It also gave me experience in the process of creating marketing plans and materials for a large community project, and coordinating those with the work of the other committees and stakeholders.
Finally, I was able to contribute some multimedia expertise, working on flyer and handout designs and re-cutting GSLIS student films about the UC2B project into a promotional trailer to be used at live community outreach events. My other main contribution was in working with and advocating for the needs of community organizations within the process, as my ongoing work with Metanoia Centers and other community groups put me in a good position to know what their concerns were and help to keep them on the agenda.