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Kootenay Savings Leads Effort to Bridge Digital Divide for Selkirk College Students

Kootenay Savings Credit Union is the lead sponsor of Selkirk College’s Digital Equity Initiative and provided $10,000 towards the campaign. Marking the generous contribution to students at the Castlegar Campus are: (L-R) Selkirk College Manager of Marketing & Digital Strategy Tessa Stark, KSCU Community Liaison Aron Burke, Selkirk College President Angus Graeme and Selkirk College Advancement Coordinator Kelsey Baerg.

Technology is an essential element of today’s post-secondary landscape and to help learners struggling to equip themselves properly, Selkirk College has reached out to the greater community for assistance.

The COVID-19 pandemic has been an effective illuminator of strengths and weaknesses across all areas of society. Over the summer, Selkirk College’s new Manager of Indigenous Education & Engagement Dianne Biin helped spur the Digital Equity Initiative that puts focus on ensuring every student has access to the tools and technology needed to thrive in the new normal.

“I was still working in Victoria when the pandemic lockdown started and I saw students sitting at free wifi spots using their phones so they could write their papers and access online courses,” says Biin, who arrived from Camosun College in May. “Student resolve to complete their studies was remarkable in spite of digital inequity. During enrollment for this year at Selkirk College, students shared with counsellors their lack of access to computers as a barrier for their learning. I appreciate the responsiveness of the college to address this barrier with this initiative and thank the donors who continue to support the college, students and community.”

Health and safety protocols across Selkirk College has limited the access to campus computer labs that many students rely on for completion of course work. With an increased focus shifting online due to the pandemic, some learners are struggling to afford a computer that allows them to meet basic needs of online study.

To date, $35,000 has been made available for technology access grants being provided to students who meet the eligibility requirements. Full-time students who demonstrate a need are provided $500 towards desktop or laptop computer purchase.

Kootenay Savings Credit Union (KSCU) is the lead sponsor of the Digital Equity Initiative and provided $10,000 towards the campaign. An annual supporter of Selkirk College in a variety of ways including the Saints hockey team, the credit union was eager to help build an important bridge for students.

“Too often we take access to computer technology for granted,” says Aron Burke, KSCU’s Community Liaison. “When we heard about students having to complete course work on phones using wifi at local fast food restaurants, that was not acceptable. This is an important initiative and we are happy to support getting the proper tools into the hands of students who need it.”

Nelson Home Hardware Building Supplies and Cover Architecture are two other supporting sponsors who have provided funds to the campaign, joining individual donors who value regional post-secondary as a vital contributor to future success of communities.

Though the current needs are being addressed under the shadow of COVID-19, breaking down barriers to education post-pandemic will continue.

“This initiative is to ensure that students have the basic requirements, but it is our hope that the definition of digital equity can evolve as we continue to evolve,” says Kelsey Baerg, Selkirk College’s Advancement Coordinator. “There are a lot of programs that require expensive software and equipment, we'd like to ensure that we continue to have the same opportunities to advanced technology that someone might find in a larger urban centre.”

You can learn more about the Digital Equity Initiative and ways to get involved at: selkirk.ca/donate-today.