Sociology and Anthropology Department Helps Close Digital Divide

The Georgia Southern University Department of Sociology and Anthropology is partnering with the Willow Hill Heritage and Renaissance Center (WHHRC) in Portal, Georgia, to help families in Bulloch County get access to technology and the internet. The WHHRC received a $109,420 CARES Act grant from the Institute for Museum and Library Services to expand internet access and improve educational opportunities for children in the area.

“Families in Bulloch County have the choice of face-to-face or virtual school, but that choice is not a real choice for families who do not have access to the internet,” said Associate Professor of Anthropology, Heidi Altman, Ph.D., who helped prepare the grant. “If the family is living in the digital divide, they may not have adequate access to the internet at the speeds needed to participate in
virtual learning.”

From left to right, Associate Professor of Anthropology, Heidi Altman, Ph.D., and
students, Angelique Jennings, Miranda Hazelwood, Mpume Hlophe, Michaela
Guilfoyle and Ahmauri Williams-Alford pose for a picture before the COVID-19
pandemic. Altman and her students have volunteered at the Willow Hill
Heritage and Renaissance Center for several years.

Participants will be able to access Wi-Fi service and check out and use laptops at an outdoor facility with tables, electricity and fans. Georgia Southern student volunteers will assist with checking laptops in and out, greeting users, and assisting users with signing into the Wi-Fi, among other responsibilities. The grant requires documentation of user data in order to make sure the program is sustainable.

“Our anthropology students will collect the anonymous user data, compile and analyze it and provide a report back to the WHHRC board for inclusion in the grant reporting,” Altman said. “In addition to providing necessary data for the grant, this is an opportunity for our students to gain hands-on experience working with actual data from an applied anthropology project.”

The Department of Sociology and Anthropology has worked with WHHRC before helping digitize archives, taking inventory of collections and volunteering at events. Altman said she’s happy to continue the partnership with the important task of getting underserved people the technology they need.