Temple University recently opened its new Digital Equity Center designed to both provide help desk support and opportunities for digital literacy education for residents of the university’s hometown of Philadelphia.

The Digital Equity Center was created in partnership with Dell Technologies, Comcast, the nonprofit Philly Community Wireless (PCW), the Charles Library, and PHLConnectED. The center operates out of Philadelphia’s Opportunities for Workforce Leadership (OWL) Hub, formerly a city housing authority community center and now a workforce development center.

The grant from Dell Technologies will allow the center to develop a community help desk and digital navigator office for the community. While partners like Dell will provide the center with funding, the nonprofit organizations will use their existing resources to provide the center with connections and insight into the community it serves.

Overall, the Digital Equity Center aims to be a place for collaboration on digital equity initiatives, as well as to provide classes and offer workspaces for the community. The center already has a teaching lab, an office, and a multipurpose space. Temple Tech for Philly, a computer refurbishment outfit, already operates out of the Digital Equity Center.

Something New from Something Old

The effort to create the Digital Equity Center reportedly grew out of a prior effort on campus: the Temple University Computer Recycling Center. Jonathan Latko, the executive director for business administration at Temple, previously ran the effort along with a group of student interns.

In its former iteration as the Computer Recycling Center, Latko and his interns would refurbish surplus computers and electronics for Temple students, staff, and faculty. According to a report by Technical.ly, Latko and his interns sprung into action at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and were able to refurbish and distribute around 300 laptops for student and faculty as the university went to remote learning.

Later during the pandemic, while partnering with the North Philadelphia Workforce Initiative, Latko was then able to distribute around 100 laptops and computers for the broader community.

“The ultimate goal was, if we could support machines, get them into the community, give them a little bit of digital onboarding,” Latko said, according to Technical.ly. “Now, these nonprofits sort of can plug into this digital equity conversation. We sort of offer a way for nonprofits in North Philadelphia … to plug into our model.”

Partnerships and Growth

In total, Latko said the Center has given out more than 200 machines to the community already and plans on giving out more than 600 by the end of this calendar year.

Latko expressed a hope to develop further partnerships with nonprofit organizations and the community. One partnership ongoing with PCW – which is looking to build out a mesh wireless network in Philadelphia’s Norris Square neighborhood – has PCW sending residents they come across without computers to the Digital Equity Center.

“We want to partner, have strategic partnerships in the community to bridge this digital divide,” Latko said. “We’re building the plane as we’re flying it. We’re hacking away at it. And we’re going to make mistakes. It’s not perfect. We’re going to keep hacking away if people have got good concepts and ideas. We’re trying to figure that out. We’re going to experiment. We’re going to fail. We’re going to learn from that failure. We’re going to keep growing.”