UNM to bring wireless technology to Navajos

WASINGTON -- According to a recent release, in an effort to bolster student education in the remote areas of the Navajo Nation, The University of New Mexico NM Health Sciences Center is joining a broad-based public/private partnership to bring wireless internet access to the reservation.

The Internet to the Hogan partnership is being spearheaded by State Senator Leonard Tsosie of Crownpoint, N.M. His vision of the project began when he learned of several independent efforts taking place to provide technology resources to Navajo teachers, parents and students via the internet, phone and television access.

During a series of Internet to the Hogan meetings held from June to December, participants representing state government, tribal government and the private sector worked together to identify shared resources and cost savings in order to construct a robust and reliable wireless telecommunication grid system for northwestern New Mexico .

The overall project includes wireless applications, digital television, tele-health resources, culturally relevant programming, distance learning and technical support.

"Wireless connectivity will also help Navajo mid and high school students learn about health careers and provide access to curriculum, such as advanced placement courses in Math and Sciences," said Valerie Romero Leggott, M.D., associate dean of the UNM School of Medicine Office of Diversity.

'The Internet to the Hogan Initiative creates an electronic highway to Navajo hogans. It's a highway designed to add resources without taking away from the Navajo way of life," Dr. Dale Alverson, M.D., director for the UNM Center for Tele-health, "This effort compliments other state initiatives, while making it possible to deliver services in both Navajo and English," he added.

Recognizing the need to insure that New Mexico's Navajo students are not left behind in the evolving digital world, New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson has expressed his support for funding a two year project. The group is also investigating a number of state and private sources of funding for the initiative.

Many students in areas of the Navajo Nation still live traditional lives with little access to electricity, land and cell phones, the internet, and public television. Due to the rugged terrain and winter weather conditions in many areas, many of those students often miss school because they simply can't get there.

Compared to other groups, New Mexico's Native American student population have greater dropout rates and limited number of students graduating from college. Limited science and technology resources have been major factors in creating those disparities.

(This article originally appeared in the Feb. 1 Navajo Nation Washington Office Newsletter. Michael Wero is Legislative Associate & Communications Specialist for the Navajo Nation Washington Office.)

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