By Tim Leeds
The Vande Bogart Library at Montana State University-Northern will house a new center to help the Hi-Line bridge the "digital divide."
The U.S. Department of Education this week awarded the university $281,532 to create a community technology center to train people in the use of computer technology. The money will be used to buy computer equipment, hire staff and remodel a space in the library.
"We're only going to be limited by space, what we can offer," Vicki Gist, project director, said today. "Our possibilities are only going to be limited by our imagination."
The center will be in the library and house 32 computers, as well as scanners, digital cameras, video cameras and other computer accessories. Gist said classes will be scheduled to teach the use of the computers and various software, and the center will be available as a lab for university students and anyone else who wishes to use it.
"We're trying to make our possibilities as flexible as we can," she added.
U.S. Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., wrote a letter to the Department of Education supporting the grant.
"I'm very proud of MSU-Northern for securing these funds that will help promote the use of technology and boost our state's economy," Baucus said in a press release. "Businesses want employees that have strong computer and technology skills. (The center) will promote lifelong learning that emphasizes adult education and family literacy. They're off to a great start and serve as an example of Montanans making a difference."
Chancellor Alex Capdeville said the university is quite pleased about the grant.
"It's an opportunity for us to build a better relationship, quite frankly, between the university and the Havre community," he said.
Melody Bentz, a grants development specialist for MSU-Northern, said the classes at the center will focus on youth, seniors and small-business owners and employees.
"There will be a whole spectrum of things," she said.
Children's classes might be available after school, in evenings and during summers. The classes could range from helping in areas of school the kids are having trouble with how to use different software or technology, or could be just for fun, like making an animated comic book.
The center will probably offer classes for seniors, too. Some seniors have trouble using technology, Bentz said, and the center could teach them how to utilize the technology and the Internet and e-mail.
The center might team seniors with children in a mentor program, Bentz said, teaming someone with a strength in a subject with a student having trouble in that subject.
Bentz said Tracey Jette of the Small Business Development Center at Bear Paw Development Corp. also will use the center. Jette will train business owners how to use various business programs and technology.
Experienced business owners also will be able to use its resources to mentor people owning newer businesses or starting new businesses.
Bentz said the center could also be used to set up distance learning on reservations to teach e-commerce techniques and general technology use.
Gist said the goal is to have the center open by March 1. The room needs to be remodeled and personnel hired to staff the center, and the equipment has to be purchased. The center will probably be open the same hours as the library, she said, although scheduled classes will take precedence over general lab work.
She plans to have a folding wall that could divide the center into two 16-terminal rooms, each with a teaching station, to increase its flexibility.
The university will hire two full-time staffers for the center, a project coordinator and a technology specialist.
The project coordinator will find out what people in the community want the center to offer, possibly coordinating offerings with other schools in the community. Gist said if there is interest in courses or workshops outside of the children's, seniors' and small business offerings, those could be designed.
Other offerings could be made for other groups or organizations, such as government employees or library staff on the Hi-Line, Gist said.
MSU-Northern teamed with Bear Paw Development Corp., the Small Business Development Center and the District IV Human Resources Development Council to apply for the grant. It is a one-year grant, but Bentz said the people working on the project are already preparing to seek ongoing funding.