Recapping the inaugural Maryland Statewide Digital Equity Summit on November 9, 2023
UME Tech Extension Educators, from left to right: Keri Grant, Blaise Brennan, Shelita Jackson, Maria Barga, Naimani Staley, Program Manager Vishnypriya Desai, and Aziz Hurtado Olson.the_post_thumbnail_caption(); ?>
[Annapolis, MD] — On Thursday, November 9, over one hundred individuals with a shared commitment to closing the digital divide convened at the Graduate Annapolis for the inaugural Maryland Statewide Digital Equity Summit. A diverse array of speakers from across the region participated in dynamic discussions exploring accessible, sustainable, collaborative, and community-driven approaches to digital inclusion. This event was presented by Marylanders Online, a University of Maryland Extension (UME) initiative in partnership with the University of Maryland (UMD) College of Information Studies (INFO), working to promote digital literacy, equity, and inclusion throughout the state.
The first annual Maryland Statewide Digital Equity Summit aimed to advance community engagement and support the establishment of partnerships and collaborations to foster ongoing digital equity initiatives throughout Maryland. Opening remarks were provided by Secretary Jake Day with the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development and Gloria Aparicio Blackwell, Founder and Director of the UMD Office of Community Engagement, who left attendees with a poignant reminder of how important digital equity work is to ensuring no Marylander is left behind in the increasingly digital world. Keynote speaker Natalie Burke ignited the event with a powerful call to action focused on community-driven digital equity initiatives rooted in cultural awareness, highlighting the historical factors that contribute to societal inequities. Ms. Burke emphasized that these challenges persist in many communities today, acting as barriers to devices, broadband, and essential digital skills, and correlatively, health, education, social, and public service resources.
The following plenary discussion panel led to a deeper conversation about how digital equity issues relate to the social determinants of health. Panelists for this plenary session included Juan Jose (JJ) Ortuno Reintsch, MBA, Vice President of Multicultural Banking for Greater Washington and Virginia at Truist; Amy Gyau-Moyer, MBA, Senior Director of Community Health at University of Maryland Medical System; Shaneka Henson, Esq., Delegate of District 30A in Anne Arundel County; and Michael Dickson, President and Executive Director, The Metamorphosis Community Project, Inc. Following the plenary session, Office of Statewide Broadband Deputy Director, Ronnie Hammond, presented on the state’s role in enabling access to high-speed internet and expanding digital literacy, with a reminder to submit public comment for Maryland’s draft Statewide Digital Equity Plan by December 2.
Following the plenary discussion panel were two interactive breakout sessions, each with two concurrent panel discussions. In the breakout session, “Learner-Centered and Community-Driven Digital Skills Training: What’s Next in Designing Digital Skills Education,” Alison Harding and Jane Behre, Ph.D. candidates with the UMD INFO Marylanders Online research and curriculum team, shared results from their statewide stakeholder digital needs assessment and Marylanders needs interview study. Session panelists included Regina Paige, MS-LDT, Manager, Internal IT Training and Candice Zhu, Chief of Digital Transformation with Enoch Pratt Free Library and Maryland State Library Resource Center; and Jane Hager, Maryland Accessible Telecommunications (MAT) Specialist, with Telecommunications Access of Maryland of the Maryland Department of Disabilities. The session was moderated by Dr. Mega Subramaniam, Professor and Associate Dean of Faculty at INFO, and allowed panelists to reflect on how their respective organizations interpreted the results within the context of the communities they work with.
The breakout session, “Rural Broadband Connectivity: Challenges, Solutions, and Resources” was moderated by Cheryl DeBerry, Broadband and Energy Manager with Garrett County Government, and hosted panelists Charlotte Davis, Executive Director of the Rural Maryland Council; Bob Kelly, Chief Information Officer with St. Mary’s County Government; and Economic Development Coordinator Rebecca Clark with Queen Anne’s County Government. The conversation introduced innovative solutions they have implemented – or would like to implement – and other available resources that rural communities can leverage.
The“Connecting Government Services” panel featured Timothy Bozman, Director, of Wicomico County Partnership for Families and Children; Jhoselyn Rodriguez, Founder and CEO of Coaching Salud Holistica; and Mitsuko Herrera, Program Director with Montgomery Connects, moderated by Ethel Rasmussen, Communication Manager of Baltimore County Department of Aging. Panelists explored how services can be better facilitated from a community level to make them more accessible and able to operate without silos.
Rounding out these breakout sessions was “Preparing for the Evolving Digital Equity Landscape: Blending, Braiding, Sequencing Upcoming Initiatives, Emerging Technologies, and Resources,” moderated by Andrew Coy, CEO and President of Digital Harbor Foundation. In this panel, strategic approaches and forward-thinking strategies for promoting digital equity within the state were explored by panelists Chrissie Powell, Chief Growth and Impact Officer with Byte Back, Inc.; Chris Abell, Executive Director with Carroll Technology and Innovation Council; and Michael Paroby, Program Officer, National Telecommunications and Information Administration.
Following the summit, three Maryland Digital Equity Champion Awards were presented in a special ceremony recognizing exceptional leadership and commitment to digital inclusion efforts in Maryland. Winners of the 2023 Maryland Digital Equity Champion Awards included Montgomery Connects, a digital equity program operated by the Montgomery County Department of Technology and Enterprise Business Solutions; Habacuc Pation with Rebirth HEART BEATZ, an after-school community resource, technology, learning, and support center for the immigrant and the vulnerable population of Wicomico County; and Ethel Rasmussen, who has been successfully leading the Digital Inclusion program at the Baltimore County Department of Aging. A notable mention was awarded to Alexandra Houff with Baltimore County Public Library, for being a tireless advocate for digital inclusion at the local, regional, state, and national levels.
Marylanders Online, UME, and INFO would like to extend gratitude to everyone who helped make this event a great success, and looks forward to hosting more events around the themes of agriculture and technology, health and technology, and emerging technologies in 2024. To view pictures of the event, visit the Marylanders Online Facebook page. Learn more about Marylanders online at marylandersonline.umd.edu.
Resource Alert: Free Tech Support with Marylanders Online
Any person residing in Maryland can connect with Marylanders Online, a free, statewide digital literacy project providing computer help, digital tools, and technology support through virtual, one-on-one sessions, as well as on-site training and events. The toll-free helpline 1-866-206-8467 can be reached Monday through Friday, 10:00 a.m. – 8:00 p.m., and Saturday from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., or by emailing email@example.com.
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Julie Slivka, Communications Manager
University of Maryland Extension
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE 11/20/23