SCC received around $620,000 in federal funds to improve infrastructure technology
As part of a statewide rural broadband project, Stanly Community College was one of 20 community colleges selected to receive federal funding to improve its technology infrastructure.
Through the Rural College Broadband Access Project, funded with federal coronavirus relief aid, SCC received roughly $620,000 to improve its broadband access on campus by increasing and upgrading its fiber connections. A total of around $12 million was allocated to the community colleges.
The 20 schools were identified based on need and a number of factors, including the regional economy, percentage of population served and the demand for technical assistance. Other local colleges that received funding included Montgomery Community College and South Piedmont Community College.
“A big part of the project for us…is both the replacement of fiber optic cable and in other areas just enhancement or putting in new fiber optic cable that we didn’t have before,” said Jeff Drake, the college’s chief technology officer.
The new and updated fiber connectivity will allow SCC to have greater bandwidth and will ensure redundancy in connectivity across the campus.
“We’ll end up with two of those (connectivity points) on campus in two different buildings in two different locations with two different sets of fiber going into both so if we have a catastrophic failure in one location, we will still be up and running on campus,” Drake said.
The college has also received, among other things, additional Wi-fi access points and two new firewalls to improve connectivity and better protect the campus.
Wi-Fi across campus ensures connectivity and access to content and digital services everywhere, including in parking lots for those who lack or have unreliable home access. Outdoor access is especially critical now as indoor seating capacity is limited by the pandemic.
Drake estimates it will take around a couple more weeks for the fiber to be fully installed on campus. It will then take about another month before the other equipment is put into place.
With so many students and staff working from home, “we’re able to really implement these improvements at a time when it’s not going to be disrupted to the student environment or staff environment,” said SCC President Dr. John Enamait.
Enamait has also been impressed with the work of Drake and his IT staff to ensure that the college has fast and efficient internet connectivity.
“Our IT staff on campus, I’ll put them up against any other IT staff at any other community college in the country,” Enamait said. “We’re very fortunate that this college has historically had a strong IT background.”
Improving rural broadband access
With many rural counties in the state struggling to provide consistent broadband access to residents, community colleges like SCC remain crucial hubs for many seeking reliable WiFi, which only underscores how important these infrastructure improvements are.
“We are an oasis,” Enamait said about SCC connectivity compared to other parts of the county. “If students need technological resources, if they need high-speed internet connection, if they need that Wi-Fi connection the college is here.”
But even with the college’s internet availability, many of the students are constrained by their internet connections at home, at a time when many are working exclusively from home.
Enamait said about 75 percent of students have been working remotely during the pandemic, while prior to 2020 only around 30 to 40 percent of students were doing so.
“Until the state can figure out how to improve rural broadband access for students and for the citizens, there will still be a bottleneck unfortunately,” he said.
Ultimately though, once the pandemic ends, remote learning will still be a popular choice for students, Enamait said, especially in the form of hybrid flexible classes which combine elements of in-person and online learning to reach as many students as possible.
These hybrid classes have already allowed students who have been exposed or contracted COVID-19 to work from home and not miss instructional time.
“It’s been a silver lining and these improvements will actually allow us to ensure that we’re able to push out that high-quality video conferencing and that our network won’t lag and we have the equipment necessary to support the network traffic,” Enamait said.