IGF-USA 2020 Session

Impact of COVID-19 on Learners and Educators

Thursday, July 23

3:00 – 4:15pm EDT

This spring, COVID-19 shuttered schools, workplaces, and businesses as the world began social distancing and quarantining. When learners and workers could no longer meet in-person, everyone with access turned to the Internet to attend school, work, and connect with those outside their household. For disconnected populations, a lack of Internet connectivity means being locked out of opportunities and essential information, such as access to job applications, schooling, and public health information. This casts the question of digital inclusion, long a factor in unequal Internet access, in a very sharp and immediate relief.

The switch to studying and teaching online has hit learners and educators in underprivileged areas — such as rural, remote, tribal, and low-income communities — particularly hard. Many K-12 and college students cannot complete their schoolwork due a lack of connectivity, causing some students to accept poor grades or face absenteeism. Many educators also have quickly transitioned to online learning without the requisite training or preparation. This panel will explore the challenges that communities and anchor institutions have faced in getting their learners and educators online, their innovative solutions to keep them connected, and the adjustment to digital learning. We will also discuss transitioning from short-term to long-term solutions, the sustainability of post-COVID connectivity models, and ensuring that all Americans are connected in the case of another quarantine period.




Brian Howard

Research & Policy Analyst, American Indian Policy Institute at Arizona State University

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Brian Howard is Akimel O’odham, Tohono O’odham, and Pee-Posh, and an enrolled member of the Gila River Indian Community where he grew up in the Komatke District. Brian is currently employed at the Arizona State University, American Indian Policy Institute (AIPI) as a Research & Policy Analyst. He currently provides analyses of various infrastructure and sovereignty issues relevant to tribal communities; manages AIPI’s Legislative and Administrative Policy Update tracking federal and Arizona State government actions affecting tribal communities; and is co-researcher for an AIPI Tribal technology research project reporting on internet and technology access on tribal reservations.

Prior to joining the AIPI team in November 2016, Brian served over five years as a Legislative Associate with the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) in Washington, DC. Working on behalf of American Indian and Alaska Native tribal governments across the U.S., Brian’s work included advocating tribal policy initiatives in Congress, the Administration, and the White House on matters regarding Telecommunications, Government Contracting, and Cultural Protections (Sacred Places, Eagle Feather/Eagle Protections, and NAGPRA issues). Brian’s work experience has also included numerous DC based research and policy internships in the federal government and non-profit sectors, as well as with the New Mexico House of Representatives and the Gila River Indian Community Council’s Office. From February 2017 until September 2018, Brian also served as the NCAI appointed representative to the Department of Homeland Security, SAFECOM Executive Committee and the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet), Public Safety Advisory Committee (PSAC) to represent tribal concerns regarding public safety communications issues on tribal lands. In his role as the NCAI appointed representative to the FirstNet PSAC, Brian also chaired its Tribal Working Group (TWG), which is comprised of regional representatives from tribal governments, organizations, and public safety/emergency management associations. Brian led the TWG in developing tribal-specific recommendations regarding tribal public safety communications as well as the creation of a Tribal Consultation Policy that was formally adopted by FirstNet in October 2017.

Brian graduated from the University of New Mexico in 2009 with his B.A. in Native American Studies focusing on Federal Indian Law and Policy with a minor in Political Science, and he graduated with his Master’s in Science and Technology Policy at Arizona State University in May 2020.


Fernando Cárdenas

Senior Manager for Employee Engagement and Partnerships, Internet Essentials Program at Comcast

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Fernando Cárdenas serves as the Senior Manager for Employee Engagement and Partnerships for the Internet Essentials Program at Comcast Corporation, the company’s signature social impact initiative. Fernando is responsible for managing employee volunteers working to close the digital divide in their communities, in addition to managing external partnerships with national and local nonprofit organizations, government entities, and businesses. He assumed this role after many years directing the Council for Opportunity in Education’s TRIO Alumni strategy. Mr. Cárdenas is a graduate of the University of California, Santa Barbara where he pursued Global and International Studies, ultimately becoming the first person in his family to receive a baccalaureate degree. Fernando is a proud alumnus of the TRIO Upward Bound program at Fresno State, and a fierce TRIO advocate.

Marian Christmon

Manager of Digital Inclusion Initiatives, Nashville Public Library

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Marian has been with the Nashville Public Library and involved in efforts to close the digital divide for 24 years. She has combined her love for teaching with her role as an IT professional and the two fuel her passion for helping those in the Nashville Community who have yet to become 21st Century Digital Citizens.

As Manager of Digital Inclusion Initiatives, Marian coordinates the library’s digital literacy outreach program and develops partnerships with organizations such as United Way, National Council on Aging and the local Public Housing Agency to deliver digital literacy training to Nashvillians within their local neighborhoods. This work includes leading the digital literacy component of ConnectHome Nashville.

Marian has served previously as the library’s Public Technology Services Manager, overseeing the end-user support of all technology-based services and as the Technology Services Manager, receiving a commendation from NPL library board for her role in planning and implementing library technology.

Kimball Sekaquaptewa

Chief Technology Director, Santa Fe Indian School

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Kimball Sekaquaptewa is the Chief Technology Director at the Santa Fe Indian School. Since 2009, Mrs. Sekaquaptewa has addressed regional broadband connectivity issues through the construction of middle mile networks by working with tribes to aggregate demand and harness local expertise to build tribally-owned networks. Her work with six tribes in New Mexico resulted the construction of two 60-mile fiber optic networks bringing high speed Internet rural underserved Pueblos. In 2006, her early work to build tribal capacity and the next generation of native IT professionals included a $1.2 million NSF IT Experiences for Students and Teachers award that provided STEM opportunities for native youth. In 2016, she helped with a USDA RUS Distance Learning and Telemedicine Grant that will connect twelve Tribal libraries to the SFIS distance learning center, expanding native language classes and promoting language revitalization.

Mrs. Sekaquaptewa is from the Hopi Tribe of Arizona. She currently resides in Cochiti Pueblo where she is the mother of three children. She holds an undergraduate degree from Stanford University and is a Woodrow Wilson fellow with a MBA from the University of New Mexico.

Emy Tseng

Senior Program Specialist, NTIA, U.S. Department of Commerce

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Emy Tseng is a Senior Program Specialist with NTIA’s BroadbandUSA program. She provides technical assistance to local and state governments on their digital inclusion strategies and initiatives. Her work focuses on expanding broadband access, adoption and digital skills in underserved and vulnerable communities across the country. Prior to NTIA, Ms. Tseng developed one of the nation’s first city-led digital inclusion initiatives for the City and County of San Francisco. She also previously worked at the Community Technology Foundation of California and Ford Foundation on communications policy. Ms. Tseng holds a Master of Science degree from the Technology and Policy Program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and a Bachelor of Science degree in Math/Physics from Brown University. From 2014-2016, she was a fellow and affiliate of the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University. In 2017, Ms. Tseng was awarded the Charles Benton Digital Equity Champion Award for her longstanding work on digital inclusion.

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