Guest blog post by Francine E. Alkisswani, Ph.D., Minority Broadband Initiative, National Telecommunications and Information Administration
Although I grew up in Charleston, I am both a coal miner’s daughter and granddaughter from the hollows of Cabin Creek, West Virginia. As I reflect on Black History Month, I think of those who inspired and nurtured me while I lived in a segregated community and attended segregated schools. They included teachers, principals, doctors, lawyers, and pastors who were all graduates of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU's).
I learned about college through these mentors as well as the ladies in my church who worked at West Virginia State College, an HBCU, which was about 15 miles from where I lived. After getting married, I moved to Pittsburgh, Penn., and eventually received my Ph.D. from the University of Pittsburgh.
I joined the Commerce Department's National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) in 1993, as an evaluation specialist for the Technology Opportunities Program where I provided technical assistance in support of digital inclusion for vulnerable populations and broadband access for HBCU's and their communities.
Today, I work on NTIA's Minority Broadband Initiative, which is an outgrowth of the Black College Satellite Program that I worked on as a graduate student. This program continued to develop at Cheyney University in Pennsylvania, where I worked before joining the Commerce Department. Cheyney is the nation’s first HBCU established in 1837. It was here that I first tried to put my vision for digital inclusion into practice.
Most recently, I worked at the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities as part of a detail assignment. HBCUs have an important role to play in NTIA’s Minority Broadband Initiative’s drive to increase broadband access in rural and unserved areas. I am truly excited to lead this initiative, and to work with broadband stakeholders and HBCUS to solve broadband challenges in unserved and underserved areas of the country.
Historically Black Colleges and Universities have been the cornerstone of education for the African-American community for more than 150 years. It is fitting that during Black History Month we pay tribute to the importance of these institutions as national treasures and honor their critical role in our nation’s productivity, competitive inclusiveness, and economic prosperity.
For the majority of my career, I have advocated for greater digital inclusion for vulnerable populations. I feel fortunate to have a job that allows me to build upon my commitment to this work.
Ed. note: This post is part of the Spotlight on Commerce series highlighting the contributions of Department of Commerce African Americans during Black History Month.