URBANA – The Illinois Broadband Lab this month is launching a statewide cohort of digital navigator fellows to plan and coordinate digital equity programs at the local level. Through a community of practice approach, fellows will provide on-the-ground support for digital skills and computer training, raise awareness and participation in the federal Affordable Connectivity Program and ensure Illinoisans of all incomes and backgrounds are able to access the benefits of high-speed internet.

The Illinois Broadband Lab is a collaboration between the Illinois Office of Broadband and University of Illinois System that measures, monitors, and tells the story of broadband investments in the state.

“Through record federal and state investments, Illinois has embarked on historic expansion of broadband infrastructure across the state,” said Matt Schmit, Director of the Illinois Office of Broadband. “But to meet our goal of making sure every Illinoisan can participate in the digital world, we also need to address non-infrastructure barriers that stand in the way of connectivity – from internet affordability, to access to connected devices, to basic computing skills. This initial group of digital navigators will be instrumental in building a foundation of local resources to help individuals get connected and tap into the personal and economic benefits that come with digital access.”

At least one digital navigator fellow will be hired for a one-year term to work alongside existing Broadband READY (Regional Engagement for Adoption + Digital Equity) teams in each of the Department of Commerce and Opportunity’s 10 regions. Assigned to the university or economic development authority leading Broadband READY efforts within each region, digital navigator fellows will support efforts of local governments, collaborator agencies, and community organizations to identify local digital equity barriers and launch programs and services that address the unique local needs.

The first cohort of digital navigator fellows recently completed initial training and are beginning their community work.  Cohort 1 includes:

  • Jessica Blackboldt working with the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (East Central Region)
  • Jennel Hooper working with Chicago State University (Northeast Region)
  • Layla Brown working with the University of Illinois Springfield (Central Region)
  • John Scott working with the Bloomington Normal EDC (North Central Region)
  • Marva Rucker working with Southern Illinois University Edwardsville (Southwest Region)
  • Gracie Clucas working with Northern Illinois University (Northwest Region)

Recruitment efforts are underway now for a second cohort of digital navigator fellows that will begin October 2.  Positions are available for the following Broadband READY teams:

  • Western Illinois University (Macomb / West Central Region)
  • Southern Illinois University (Carbondale / Southern Region)
  • City of Chicago (Northeast Region)
  • Northern Illinois University (Collar Counties / Northern Stateline Region)
  • Eastern Illinois University (Charleston / Southeast Region)

Interested applicants can visit the Lead for America website to learn more. Applications are being accepted through September 25.

Funding for the digital navigators comes from an FCC grant the Illinois Office of Broadband secured earlier this year for ACP outreach and digital adoption efforts. The state has partnered with Lead for America to hire the digital navigator fellows through its American Connection Corps (ACC) program. As an official AmeriCorps program, ACC fellows are eligible for a higher education scholarship in addition to a stipend for their year of service.