Regional college students and educators, entrepreneurs, business innovators, technology professionals, and community members gathered recently for the Digital Economy Conference in Cumming, Ga., to discuss methods to use broadband technology to foster the growth of the region's economy and educational opportunities.
During the conference, Dr. Bryson Payne, head of the University of North Georgia's (UNG) Department of Computer Science & Information Systems in the Mike Cottrell College of Business, announced that the university has received a $10,000 grant from the Georgia Technology Authority (GTA) to support internships for high school students that will provide technology-based job experience.
"Thanks to a $10,000 grant from GTA and our partnership with the Technology Association of Georgia, we have five-week internship opportunities available for approximately 20 businesses and high school students in our region," Payne said.
Digital economic development initiatives received a substantial boost in spring 2012 with the development of the North Georgia Network, which provides high-speed connectivity to an area with more than 334,000 people in Dawson, Forsyth, Habersham, Lumpkin, Rabun, Towns, Union, and White counties. UNG has been a partner in the network since its inception, and the network and its partners are now seeking to develop more opportunities to bring broadband technology to businesses and education sites.
"Students in the grant-funded internship program will work for five weeks in a technology-related job and receive a $1,000 stipend upon completion – businesses contribute up to half of that for five weeks of valuable work, and the grant funds the rest," Payne said. "It's a great deal for a business needing some technology work over the summer, and it's a tremendously valuable experience for a high school student considering a future in IT in our region."
The grant was announced following a panel involving Payne and college graduates, students, and one high school student. The panel members spoke about ways to strengthen technology education for future students. One student said he felt there is occasionally a disconnect between what they are learning in classrooms and what businesses will expect from them when they begin work, a problem the internship program will directly address.
The conference featured many UNG professors. The conference's multi-tiered approach to examine education and regional businesses offered a unique look into how the digital economy impacts and will continue to impact the region.
Dr. Chaudron Gille, associate vice president for university affairs and academic services at UNG, participated in a panel about digital education in Georgia schools and higher education. The session focused on how the digital age is transforming the way students learn, as technology continues to offer educational opportunities that are more flexible, accessible and affordable.
"For example, the fastest growing population of students is non-traditional learners, and it's important that we expand access for this group," Gille said. "These students are in need of online education opportunities because of the responsibilities they are managing in their lives as adult learners. This initiative and others, such as implementing high-impact practices like undergraduate research, also help us to graduate students who are ready to enter the workforce."
Dr. Ruben Boling, director of the Center for the Future of North Georgia at UNG, participated in a panel that focused on how businesses can use technology to expand their customer base and improve operations.
"Small businesses know that they need to do something to keep up with their competition, but they quite often do not understand why and how," Boling said. "We want to help businesses identify why, where and how they should implement digital alternatives to improve their profitability and success."
Two more conferences will be held in Georgia next year. For more information on these conferences as it is made available, please visit http://gta.georgia.gov/press-releases.
"This conference aims to engage people in the digital economy and to show them how to prepare for it as it expands," said Bruce Abraham, president and CEO of Connect North Georgia. "UNG plays a huge role in this preparation, as it is the younger generations who are using digital tools the most and will continue to create them in the future."