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Digital Equity Fund supports first-year students

At the onset of the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic, at least 20 percent of Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design students lacked access to sufficient hardware or reliable internet that would allow them to participate fully in online classes. The college’s response took the form of the Digital Equity Fund, which seeks to alleviate the digital divide in MIAD students by providing technology and looking for sustainable solutions.

Faculty and staff launched the conversation around digital equity at MIAD well before the pandemic, but remote instruction accelerated the need for a solution. After implementing a Digital Equity Fund to support students during distance learning, the initiative funded hot spots and Wi-Fi for students, in addition rolling out a new program for First-Year Experience students this year. The Digital Equity Fund allowed MIAD to purchase enough iPads for each first-year student to use for fall and spring semesters, as well as over academic breaks.

Ben Dembroski, managing director of Emerging Technology and Institutional Labs, explains that this iteration of the Digital Equity Fund is in its beginning stages and will be evaluated and critiqued by First-Year Experience faculty during its program review next year. “We’re going to look really hard and intelligently at iPads in First-Year Experience to see if it’s a viable solution,” he says.

The iPads, distributed to students along with iPencils, are loaded with Forger and Shapr 3D, two applications used for parametric and mesh modeling in First Year Experience Fabrication courses. “We picked the one area that had the biggest challenge in terms of digital inequity affecting student learning outcomes,” says Dembroski. Students begin their studies on equal footing and faculty save hours of instruction time in class that might otherwise have been spent fielding problems caused by poor-quality laptops.

“Whatever the result of this program is going to be, it will improve the college’s ability to support every single student’s technology needs,” continues Dembroski. “It also makes it easier for the college to introduce new programs.” MIAD recently announced two new programs of study: Animation (a track within the Illustration major) and the Fashion and Apparel Design Major. “Removing unnecessary barriers is massive,” says Dembroski.

Funding for the program comes from at least six foundations who made philanthropic donations. “When we’re trying to figure out a new way of doing things, we really rely on philanthropic support,” explains Dembroski. “The college doesn’t want to use students’ tuition dollars for MIAD to figure out how to be a better version of MIAD … We’re so lucky to have such visionary and generous donors.”

Find more information on the Emerging Technology Center and learn more about supporting MIAD students!


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