August 13, 2009 / By Tiffany Fox, (858) 246-0353, email@example.com
San Diego, Calif., Aug. 13, 2009 — A multi-disciplinary collaboration of faculty and staff from the University of California, San Diego — in partnership with San Diego Community Housing Corporation (SDCHC) — were recognized last week by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for their contributions to the Town & Country Village, an affordable housing project in southeast San Diego.
Officials from HUD visited the community's Town & Country Learning Center (TCLC) as part of Neighborhood Networks Week, a celebration of HUD's Multifamily Neighborhood Networks centers throughout the United States. The TCLC — which features technology developed at UC San Diego's California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology (Calit2) — was featured in Neighborhood Networks Week's closing Webcast, broadcast live on location.
"This event underscores the importance of community partnerships and what they mean to residents and stakeholders," remarked Delores Pruden, director of Neighborhood Networks and the host of the Webcast. "Most of these centers don't get any direct funding, and universities and colleges are such a great resource for building a staff supplement — volunteers and students who can come in and spend time with the users of the center, whether it's youth, seniors or adults. This partnership is one of our most successful ones with a university."
The TCLC, which is comprised of two adjoining apartments at the Town & Country Village, serves 140 apartment units and 3,000 families from the surrounding community. It's one of 220 learning centers in California and one of more than 1,400 neighborhood network centers in the U.S.
Many of the high-tech services at TCLC, including a multi-panel video wall, are being provided by researchers at Calit2, as well as affiliates of UCSD's San Diego Supercomputer Center. UCSD Professor Michael Cole, a professor of communication, psychology and human development, has also contributed his expertise as a pioneer of innovative after-school programs to bring computers and computer networks to children in community settings. Cole regularly recruits undergraduates from his practicum courses to serve as after-school mentors at TCLC.
"Together we've been doing a lot of work in looking at the community issues from a holistic standpoint and bringing in social sciences and technology to solve the problems," explained Srinivas Sukumar, Calit2 Community Program Director.
Added Cole: "That's what brought us together: We're trying to think about the role of technology in development at the community level, at the national level and for individual kids. It's why Calit2 is interested, it's why social science departments are interested. And this is a struggling neighborhood. It's the kind of place that needs the access that we're providing."
Cole, along with Sukumar and SDSC Director of Education Diane Baxter, participated in the panel discussion portion of the Neighborhood Networks Week webcast. Also present were Veverly Anderson, TCLC's youth program coordinator; Kimberly Paul, Vice President of Community Development for SDCHC (which serves as the general managing partner for the Town & Country Village housing complex and the TCLC); and Donald Freeman, HUD Neighborhood Networks coordinator for Southern California.
Sukumar noted that Calit2 has designated the TCLC as a project for its TIES (Teams in Engineering Service) program, which enlists engineering students to create solutions for community settings. The solutions for the TCLC include a health-monitoring system designed to look at continuous measurement of weight and blood pressure of the people that come to the TCLC, and a 20 megapixel, 9-panel LCD video wall that can run various applications ranging from learning tools to entertainment.
"We built the display system to enable the kids who come to TCLC to experience the world out there," explained Sukumar. "This particular neighborhood is not very safe, so it's very hard for the kids to just wander around and explore. So we've created a system by which they can easily look around and explore their neighborhood through Google Earth, or even explore other cities."
As the TCLC's youth program coordinator, Anderson says she sees up to 30 residents walk through the doors of the TCLC every day, from youngsters who need help with their homework to adults who have enrolled in classes on diabetes and meditation. Although she says she can "talk all day about success stories," she credits the technical assistance and staff support she receives from UC San Diego for helping the TCLC live up to its true potential.
"When I first began at TCLC, I was without any kind of help, without any staff and without a lot of money. I often felt like an octopus," Anderson recalled. "Everything I wanted to do, and then some, I tried to do on my own."
"That's the really good thing about the collaboration with UCSD," she enthused. "All the really good things I want to do, I now can do with the collaboration with the University."
Added Pruden: "As we all know, technology is how the world operates, but still so many people don't have access to it. Since 1995, HUD has encouraged property owners and managers of multifamily Federal Housing Administration-insured and -assisted housing to allocate space in their developments for a computer center so that residents would have the opportunity to become computer literate and receive job training and academic enrichment."
And the collaboration provides significant benefits to the UC San Diego students as well.
"For the engineering students it provides real things to do," noted Cole, "and for our Social Science students, it's not multiple-choice questions any more — it's people, it's real social systems. Our students learn a tremendous amount from the kids down here."
Tiffany Fox, (858) 246-0353, firstname.lastname@example.org