Coppin State University will use a $932,000 federal grant to build an on-campus computer center for the surrounding community in West Baltimore.
Coppin will use four labs and 60 new computers to teach job skills, augment school lessons and improve public health, said York Bradshaw, who directs the university's Institute for Local to Global Community Engagement.
"The idea is for people to use IT to grow in all of those areas," Bradshaw said. "This will allow us to engage with the surrounding neighborhood in many new ways."
The university, which contributed $275,000 on top of the grant, estimates that less than 5 percent of households in Coppin Heights-Rosemont have broadband Internet access. That means children have few chances to reinforce the computer lessons they learn in school and residents are unable to learn skills considered essential in the modern workplace, Bradshaw said.
The grant, which comes from the federal stimulus package passed by Congress last year, is part of an overall push to rehabilitate communities with help from the Internet.
"This critical investment will expand computer and Internet service access to Baltimore residents most in need, helping to make them full participants in today's 21st-century information economy," U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke said in a statement.
Michigan State University and the University of Minnesota won grants to start similar centers.
The Coppin center, located in the university's health and human services building, will be open seven days a week. One lab will always be open for residents who want to practice new skills or perform Internet research. The university will also offer 15 free courses on topics including basic computing for adults, starting small businesses and introducing seniors to the Internet.
Bradshaw said the university hopes to have the center fully operational in six weeks.
He said Coppin will work through schools, churches, community groups and businesses to spread word about the center through a 1.6-square-mile area that includes 35,000 residents. The university has previously worked to help neighboring schools with technology, but the center will represent its first foray into offering computer access to the wider community.