UW Eau Claire: University-Community Partnerships To Bridge Non-Profit Digital Divide

EAU CLAIRE — A project to strengthen the technology capabilities of local non-profit agencies is under way at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.

The university will match in-kind a $10,000 Building Social and Economic Capital planning grant from the Corporation for National and Community Service through the Learn and Serve America Higher Education Grant program to fund the planning phase of the project.

The grant is coordinated by the Upper Midwest Campus Compact Consortium, which includes Wisconsin Campus Compact, Minnesota Campus Compact and Iowa Campus Compact.

Project leader Donald Mowry, director of the UW-Eau Claire Center for Service-Learning, is working with United Way Executive Director Kris Becker on the project, which will help local non-profits bridge the digital divide caused by inadequate organizational technology.

Technology capacity goes beyond mere access to technology and internet sources; it also includes the ability to create relevant content and information systems and the development of useful applications to support the agencies’ missions, Mowry said.

UW-Eau Claire students, faculty and staff, in collaboration with the community-based organizations, will help improve agencies’ technology capacity. Students with expertise in areas such as management information systems, computer science, organizational development, business communications, communications and journalism, sociology and social work will work in teams with faculty mentors to address agencies’ information technology integration needs.

“Five teams of students will work for two semesters to develop and implement the technology plan,” Mowry said. “Students will get service-learning credit, and the projects will meet the requirements for some courses.”

A 2001 evaluation of Chippewa Valley non-profit agencies found that many fall short of basic benchmarks that are indicators of information technology integration, Mowry said.

“We found there is a digital divide,” Mowry said. “Many agencies aren’t networked and there is much inefficiency. Our proposal will strengthen the agencies’ organizational technology capabilities, expand community information and databases, and develop new applications.”

Students will enhance their learning while engaging in community service, Mowry said.
Local agencies need assistance in building technology capacity, creating relevant content and information systems, and developing useful applications, Becker said.

“As non-profits lag behind in their information systems and as economic support from local, state, federal and private funds continues to decline, the service needs are increasing at an alarming rate,” Becker said. “The current environment limits the ability of organizations to plan for obsolescence or even the knowledge base to determine the agencies’ technology needs.”
“The project enables us to foster ongoing community and campus partnerships to address identified community needs, which is a basic goal of service-learning,” said Mowry, noting that UW-Eau Claire and United Way have a long-standing partnership in many areas. Through internships, service-learning and volunteer work students have been a mainstay for the work of the agency. Many faculty and staff have provided leadership for United Way initiatives, campaign, fund distribution, marketing and other activities.
Another piece of the project involves the Chippewa Valley Center for Economic Research and Development, again using students in collaboration with community partners. They will develop a database of local non-profits and the services they offer, and provide a database of current and past research activities applicable to the regional economy. The databases will be published on the CVCERD Web site to help demonstrate the cost advantages of operating in the Chippewa Valley.

“Providing local agencies with higher technological access will increase organizational effectiveness in all capacities, resulting in an efficiently functioning community system that is readily equipped to address the pressing health and human service needs of the Chippewa Valley,” Becker said.

The implementation grant proposal is due in May, Mowry said. If funded, the project will begin Sept. 1.