Diné College gets $2.9 million grant for internet access, employee hiring and training

John R. Moses
Farmington Daily Times

FARMINGTON − A federal grant sent Diné College $2.9 million to fund high-speed internet programs, the Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) announced last month.

“Diné College is one of five minority-serving colleges and universities receiving grants totaling $10,642,577.03,” NTIA said in a news release. “The grants will be used to fund internet access, equipment, and to hire and train information technology personnel.”

The grant was among the first in the Connecting Minority Communities Pilot Program (CMC) and will affect all of the college's campuses, including the one in Shiprock.

“Enhancing technology for students and the surrounding community has been and will continue to be a key priority for Diné College,” Diné College President Charles Roessel said in a news release from the college.

The projects will include classroom technology upgrades, community technology hub upgrade, workforce training for economic growth, and digital literacy skills, the college’s release stated.

“We knew that we had to extend our services beyond our campuses and centers to the Navajo Nation, and part of this funding will allow us to fund broadband services across the reservation. We will also be investing in our staff, because it is the people behind the scenes that make any project work,” said Diné College IT Director, Ihab Saleh.

Diné College is a postsecondary educational institution that awards associate degrees, baccalaureate degrees, and certificates “in areas important to the economic and social development of the Navajo Nation,” the college’s release stated.

The main campus is in Tsaile (Tsééhílí), Arizona. There are campuses in Window Rock, Chinle, and Tuba City for Arizona residents and “a branch campus at Shiprock and a Site at Crownpoint” that serve New Mexico residents, the school’s website said.

“Other grant recipients include Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs), Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs), and Minority-Serving Institutions (MSIs) across the United States,” the release said.

“America’s minority serving college and universities are bedrock learning centers that have too often been left behind when it comes to accessing affordable high-speed internet,” said Deputy Secretary of Commerce Don Graves. “The Connecting Minority Communities Pilot Program enables these institutions to be a resource for access, digital skills training, and workforce development programs for students and the community to help level the economic playing field.”

The Department of Commerce release said Diné College will use the money “to improve educational and economic opportunity on the Navajo Nation by improving internet access, providing more hardware, and investing in IT staff.”

“Access to computers and reliable internet is crucial to students’ success in the classroom. This grant will ensure Diné College students have access to new laptops, mobile hotspots, printing kiosks, as well as professional development training,” said U.S. Sen Mark Kelly (D-AZ). “We’ll continue working to bridge the digital divide for the next generation of leaders and innovators on the Navajo Nation.”

The Connecting Minority Communities Pilot Program is part of the Biden-Harris Administration’s Internet for All Initiative. There is $268 million set aside in the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 reserved for expanding high-speed internet access and connectivity at colleges and universities that are eligible to receive those funds.