PROVO — This city’s new mayor has had a lot of firsts in the past few months.
For example, on Tuesday she shot her first group selfie, snapping a shot at the Provo Recreation Center during a kickoff lunch in support of national Digital Inclusion Week.
Mayor Michelle Kaufusi, elected last fall to fill the position vacated by the state’s newest federal legislator, Rep. John Curtis, said while her city has the great advantage of being highly connected, there were still numerous challenges in bridging the digital divide.
“Even with our great internet service access, there are still groups who are being left out,” Kaufusi said. “Today, we’re here to help this group of seniors build their internet skills and catching them at their bingo luncheon is the perfect opportunity … it’s the biggest day here.”
Kaufusi spent the time giving the 100 or so attendees a demonstration on the world of YouTube videos.
“We brought cupcakes and gifts, but our focus was sharing some helpful information,” Kaufusi said. “My lesson was about how to access it and navigate it and that it’s free, which was a great surprise for most of the folks here.
“We talked about how you can learn to change a tire, play piano or just listen to Elvis.”
Google Fiber Provo and the United Way were helping with the event, and Bill Hulterstrom, president and CEO of United Way Utah County, explained why his organization has prioritized the work to bring tech skills and access to those who lack them.
“The idea of digital inclusion is that technology, at the end of the day, is needed to connect people to jobs, family, school and even neighbors,” Hulterstrom said. “And to leave anyone out of that connection is really sad. Many of our senior friends, like those we’re helping out today, are missing out on being connected to our community because of that lack of skills.”
Back in 2013, Google announced it would be acquiring Provo’s financially strapped, municipally owned fiber network, iProvo. The deal tweaked city residents when news surfaced that taxpayers would remain on the hook for over $39 million in bonding debt, while Google purchased the network for a mere $1. The flip side to the arrangement was the company assumed all ongoing operating responsibilities and expenses. Mayor John Curtis wrote, at the time, that the solution was “painful … but the right thing to do.”
Devin Baer, Google’s national head of sales, said Tuesday that Provo is now one of the best connected communities in the country and that his company would be participating in various outreach activities throughout the week, including a campaign using the social media hashtag #ProvoGotSkills to create a digital skills pay-it-forward effort.
“We’re working to get Provo residents involved by teaching a skill, and learning a skill,” Baer said. “The idea is everyone acquires, and shares, a digital inclusion skill. And those participating, and using the #ProvoGotSkills, will be eligible to win some great prizes from participating Provo businesses.”
Other activities scheduled in the coming week include:
• May 9: Google Fiber and Mountainland Head Start will host a Family STEM Night, held at the Provo Recreation Center, 320 W. 500 North. The event will be devoted to teaching and learning STEM skills with Head Start families from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.
• May 10: A Teen Tech Night, titled “Change the World, The Magic of Working in Tech,” is slated at the Provo City Library, 550 N. University Ave., from 6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. A special guest from Google Fiber will talk about working at Google, the tech industry, startups and how we can use technology to help others.
• May 11: Google Fiber and the United Way will bring Google Expeditions, a virtual reality learning experience, to students at Franklin Elementary School, 350 S. 600 West, from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m.
• May 11: At Franklin Elementary from 2 p.m. to 2:30 p.m., a Google Fiber representative will present a hands-on Makey-Makey demonstration to faculty members during their Teacher Technical Professional Development session. Makey-Makey is an online program developed by Massachusetts Institute of Technology students to help teachers engage their students in using STEM skills to invent things.