First-ever N.C. Education Datathon analyzes the digital divide

The N.C. Department of Information Technology’s Government Data Analytics Center joined The Hunt Institute and the Office of Governor Roy Cooper in sponsoring the first-ever North Carolina Education Datathon, an event which paired teams of North Carolina students with volunteer mentors to leverage technology and data to address disparities created by the digital divide. The April 4-5 event was made possible by the John M. Belk Endowment.

“Data is critical to helping us make informed decisions about complex problems that impact North Carolinians,” Governor Roy Cooper said. “The solutions these students design can help close the digital divide and connect residents across the state to high-speed internet access so they can learn and grow. Events like this also highlight the importance of STEM education and how it can be applied in future careers.”

During the datathon, 13 teams of high school to graduate-level students from across the state analyzed data on income, geographic and race and ethnic disparities to explore the relationship between the digital divide and postsecondary educational attainment. The student teams presented their findings to a panel of expert judges. Ideas gleaned from the presentations will be used to help the state meet its goal of attaining 2 million adults with postsecondary degrees or credentials by 2030.

“NCDIT is committed to providing access to affordable, high-speed internet in every corner of the state, ensuring that it is equitably adopted and empowering our residents to use it for everyday necessities. But we cannot do it alone,” said State Chief Information Officer and NCDIT Secretary James A. Weaver. “The datathon provides a great opportunity for students and mentors to have a profound impact on policy and on broadband expansion plans by generating creative, data-driven ideas that address digital equity.”

The project from the winning team, Edu-tastic from N.C. State University’s Learning Analytics Program, provided granular details and a narrative on each county’s struggles and successes that are not evident when looking at the larger statewide dataset. Their tool defined outlying successful county trends that can help other counties find success in postsecondary education attainment when combined with increased access to high-speed internet. Team members included Victoria Seng, Craig Lazarski, Justin Post and Kristi Ramey. NCDIT’s Ben Shelton and Radhika Sankaran served as the team’s mentors.

“The digital divide has been a pressing issue for our schools and communities long before COVID brought it to the forefront. It’s crucial to increase digital access for students while leveraging technology to improve our education systems,” said Dr. Javaid Siddiqi, president and chief executive officer of The Hunt Institute. “That’s why the NC Education Datathon program is so important and why I’m so inspired to see these students come together and utilize their resources in order to address these disparities and come up with long-term solutions.”

More than 40 mentor volunteers, including 14 from NCDIT, provided guidance to the student teams. NCDIT Chief Operating Officer Torre Jessup served as a judge with John Denning, senior advisor of the John M. Belk Endowment, Dr. Stefany Dunstan, senior research advisory at Lenovo, and Rupen Fofaria, reporter for EdNC.

For more information on the North Carolina Education Datathon, visit www.ncedatathon.org, and to view the 2022 NC Education Datathon student presentations, visit www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLpJzuRcWnt4UvgAHnlt3slzbZ9kB8UqOY

 

Contributed.

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