PULLMAN, Wash. – Washington State University has received a $456,000 grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for the university’s new Center to Bridge the Digital Divide.

The grant, the first from the foundation, supports a 4-H computer technology initiative and general support of center operations.

“We are excited that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation selected the Center to Bridge the Digital Divide as the recipient of its first grant to Washington State University,” said Center Director Bill Gillis. “The grant represents an important opportunity for the center to partner with one of the world’s leading philanthropic foundations to extend the benefits of modern digital technologies to youth in rural communities and underserved urban neighborhoods.”

“The Center to Bridge the Digital Divide will provide a critical resource to low-income and rural communities in Washington,” said Richard Akeroyd, executive director of Libraries and Public Access to Information at the foundation. “Through this grant, thousands of youth in Washington will have the opportunity to develop technology skills that will enable them to succeed in the future.”

The grant will support a WSU Cooperative Extension 4-H program aimed at increasing the computer literacy skills of 4-H youth in the state by training them in a nationally juried 4-H curriculum. Pat Boyes, director of WSU Cooperative Extension’s 4-H youth development program, said the grant comes at a great time for Washington state 4-H.

“The Gates Foundation gift is especially timely as our nationwide 4-H system celebrates its centennial year in 2002. As the largest youth development organization in the United States, 4-H has a 100-year history of helping young people build the essential life skills that lead them to successful adulthood,” Boyes said. “The Gates gift launches Washington State 4-H Youth Development into its second century of service by engaging young people as community educators. The 4-H Computer Technology Initiative will reach out to Washington’s youth wherever they live, teaching them new technology skills and then providing the structure for those young people to become effective educators to their local communities. The 4H motto of “Learn by Doing” will be put into practice once again because of the Gates Foundation support.”

The training will take place at six new 4-H computing laboratories to be established by the grant as well as via a mobile 4-H computer training van, which will employ satellite technology for wireless high-speed internet connectivity from anywhere in the state.
Scott Fedale, director of extension information technology, says that the mobile wireless internet connectivity piece of the project has sparked national attention on Washington State University Cooperative Extension’s 4-H program: “We’ve had a lot of interest from other universities in what we’re proposing as an example of how to bring training and broadband connectivity to youth in rural locations.,” said Fedale. “We’ve also received a commitment of funding from the American Distance Education Consortium (ADEC) for the mobile van part of the project, and they want to spotlight our effort as a national model,” he said.