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Working to help the HBCU Smart Cities Challenge


4 min read
Working to help the HBCU Smart Cities Challenge

Anyone who knows me knows that I am a proud member of the HBCU (Historically Black College or University) alumni. The HBCU Smart Cities Challenge invites all HBCUs across the United States to build technological solutions to solve real-world problems. When I learned that Cloudflare would be supporting the HBCU Smart Cities Challenge, I was on board immediately for so many personal reasons.

In addition to volunteering mentors as part of this partnership, Cloudflare offered HBCU Smart Cities the opportunity to apply for Project Galileo to protect and accelerate their online presence. Project Galileo provides free cyber security protection to free speech, public interest, and civil society organizations that are vulnerable to cyber attacks. After more than three years working at Cloudflare, I know that we can make the difference in bridging the gap in accessibility to the digital landscape by directly securing the Internet against today’s threats as well as optimizing performance, which plays a bigger role than most would think.

What is an HBCU?

A Historically Black College or University is defined as “any historically black college or university that was established prior to 1964, whose principal mission was, and is, the education of black Americans, and that is accredited by a nationally recognized accrediting agency or association determined by the Secretary of Education.” (Source: What is an HBCU? HBCU Lifestyle).  I had the honor of graduating from the nation’s first degree-granting HBCU, Lincoln University of Pennsylvania.

One of the main reasons that I decided to attend a HBCU is that the available data suggests that HBCUs close the socioeconomic gap for Black students more than other high-education institutions (Source: HBCUs Close Socioeconomic Gap, Here’s How, 2021). This is exemplified by my own experience — I was a student that came from a low-income background, and became the first generation college graduate in my family. I believe it is due to HBCUs providing a united, supportive, and safe space for people from the African diaspora which equips us to be our best.

The HBCU Smart Cities Challenge

There are a wide range of problems the HBCU Smart Cities Challenge invites students to tackle. These problems include water management in Tuskegee, AL; broadband and security access in Raleigh, NC; public health for the City of Columbia, SC; and affordable housing in Winston-Salem, NC—just to name a few. Applying skills with smart technology to real-life problems helps improve upon the existing infrastructure in these cities.

To solve these problems, the challenge brings together students at HBCUs to build smart city applications. Over several months, developers, entrepreneurs, designers, and engineers will develop tech solutions using Internet of Things technology. In October, Cloudflare presented as part of a town hall in the HBCU Smart Cities series. We encouraged local leaders to think about using historic investments in broadband buildout to also lay the foundation for Smart Cities infrastructure at the same time. We described how, with solid infrastructure in place, the Smart Cities applications that are built on top of that infrastructure- would be fast, reliable, and secure — which is a necessity for infrastructure that residents rely on.

Here are some quotes from Norma McGowan Jackson, District 1 Councilwoman of City of Tuskegee and HBCU Smart City Fellow Arnold Bhebhe:

"As the council person for District 1 in the City of Tuskegee, which represents Tuskegee University, as the Council liaison for the HBCU Smart Cities Challenge, as a Tuskegee native, and as a Tuskegee Institute, (now University) alumnae, I am delighted to be a part of this collaboration. Since the days of Dr. Booker T. Washington, the symbiotic relationship between the Institute (now University) and the surrounding community has been acknowledged as critical for both entities and this opportunity to further enhance that relationship is a sure win-win!"
- Norma McGowan Jackson, District 1 Councilwoman of City of Tuskegee
"The HBCU Smart Cities Challenge has helped me to better understand that even though we live in an unpredictable world, our ability to learn and adapt to change can make us better innovators. I’m super grateful to have the opportunity to reinforce my problem-solving, creativity, and communication skills alongside like-minded HBCU students who are passionate about making a positive impact in our community."
- Arnold Bhebhe, Junior at Alabama State University majoring in computer science

How Cloudflare helps

Attending an HBCU was one of the best decisions I have made in my life, and my motivation was seeing the product of HBCU graduates — noting that the first woman Vice President of the United States, Kamala Harris, is a HBCU graduate from Howard University.

The biggest honor for me is having the opportunity to build on the brilliance of these college students in this partnership, because I was in their shoes almost 25 years ago.

Further, to help protect websites associated with HBCU Smart Cities projects, Cloudflare has invited students in the program to apply for Project Galileo.

Finally, the HBCU Smart Cities Challenge are continually looking for mentors, sponsors and partnerships, as well as support and resources for the students. If you’re interested, please go here to learn more.

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Nikole Phillips|@niktphil

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