Skills for success

Published 4:41 pm Tuesday, January 23, 2024

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WINDSOR – Digital skills are vital in today’s world.

But even though access to broadband internet is gradually increasing, not everyone knows exactly how to develop those digital skills yet.

To address that issue, NC Cooperative Extension has provided funding to select offices throughout the state to add a “Digital Educator” agent. Bertie County Cooperative Extension is the only office in the northeastern part of the state to receive funding for this new position.

“We’re kind of blazing a new trail,” said Bertie Extension Director Billy Barrow.

The funds for the position were given to NC Cooperative Extension through a $1.33 million grant from the Division of Broadband and Digital Equity, which is a part of the North Carolina Department of Information Technology. Barrow said the initiative was a part of the push to increase broadband availability.

“As broadband becomes available, we want people to make the most use of it that they can,” he explained.

The new Digital Educator agent for Bertie County, Valencia White, began her position in mid-January, and she already has plenty of ideas on getting started.

“Digital education is definitely needed in this area. It affects some of the most important transactions that we make, and some of the most important things that we do,” White explained.

People use the internet these days to do everything from filing for unemployment and applying for jobs to scheduling doctor’s appointments and paying bills.

White, who grew up in Bertie County and moved back to the area during the pandemic, has a background in investment banking. But more recently, she has held jobs at Roanoke-Chowan Community College and NCWorks. In those jobs, she also helped people develop their digital skills.

“Which is why I felt so comfortable applying for this position,” White said. “This doesn’t feel like my first week. It’s kind of an extension of where I left.”

In her position with the county’s Cooperative Extension office, White plans to offer a variety of classes to cover a wide range of topics for people of all ages. Those topics may include learning basic computer literacy for senior citizens, using online tools for small businesses, emphasizing online safety and anti-bullying for students, covering digital financial literacy, and more.

“I plan to bridge the gap to digital inclusion,” she added, explaining that she will build partnerships within the community – such as with the library, local senior centers, churches, and other organizations – to reach out to as many people as possible.

And she won’t always be based in the Cooperative Extension office in Windsor. White will be able to travel around the county – and perhaps even further – to provide assistance as well.

“Our economy is becoming more digitally based, and if we don’t adapt, we’ll be left behind. I can’t wait to help and empower North Carolinians with digital skills for success,” she concluded.