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Beyond Broadband: Connecting Your Community Through STEM and Intergenerational Outreach

Sept. 19, 2023
MTA, in Alaska and one of the largest telecom cooperatives, discusses STEM and community outreach.

Alaska’s MTA, one of the largest telecom cooperatives, discusses how to serve the needs of a community beyond broadband connectivity.

Those in the telecom and technology industries are constantly on a mission to move society forward through the development and launch of new tools, software, and projects. This is why we choose this career and what is expected of us.

What too often gets lost amid the constant innovation and experimentation is the most important connection of all—that between us and the communities we serve.

The relationship between us and our community, and the Internet service and technology products we’re providing, are not mutually exclusive; the more you can become a trusted thought leader on technology in your community, the more likely it is that your organization will be trusted to employ its services to customers.

While each of our communities have different needs and priorities, there are several universal ways that an Internet service provider can leave an unmistakable imprint on its community.

MTA, or Matanuska Telecom Association, has been a leader in technology and telecommunications in Southcentral Alaska since 1953, serving a coverage area roughly the size of Maryland. As a co-operative in a largely rural part of Alaska, where distances between homes, businesses, and public buildings are often vast, the goals of providing reliable connections and helping to build connections within the community are particularly vital for my organization.

That’s one of the reasons we have been looking at the long-term view and focusing on the future of Alaska—our students and young adults. Alaska has seen an uptick in tech entrepreneurs and innovation in recent years, and we want to ensure that growth doesn’t just stay steady but speeds up.

Identifying opportunities to partner with or sponsor external organizations that are aligned with your mission and values—such as making an imprint on the future of Alaska’s tech workforce—is a valuable way to influence your community’s young, tech-interested minds. For us, this meant partnering with youth programs like Girls who code for hands-on educational efforts focused on STEM education.

You can also be proactive by bringing tech leaders of the future into the fold with open arms and tangible career guidance; for example, providing a firsthand tour of your business’ operations, from the customer support center, to seeing the fiber itself up close. For young students, tangible experiences like this can flip a switch inside them that permanently piques their interest in broadband and STEM.

There are also ways for an organization to more formally dedicate itself to the future of its community. Setting up a nonprofit arm of your organization can help create a direct line between your values and results for the community. Our MTA Foundation invests in our community through scholarships, donations, and major grants, with a goal of creating a more robust and connected community.

Aside from the obvious benefits to recipients of scholarships and grants, it comes back around to benefit your organization—making the community more tech-forward and increasing the area’s talent pool in the long term.

One of the ways we’ve been able to show tangible results—and have a lot of fun in the process—is through our gaming and esports initiatives, which directly benefit the MTA Foundation and, in turn, our community. It also forges a direct connection to a generation of teens and young adults that we otherwise may not have many valuable opportunities to reach, by expanding our network to platforms like Discord and Twitch, and welcoming special guests ranging from top national gamers to NBA and NFL superstars.

While developing or partnering on programs for the younger generation in your area may have the most long-term impact broadly, it’s not the only generation worth crafting special offerings for. Consider learning opportunities for older residents in your service area as well. For us, this has included hosting educational events such as “Streaming Showcases,” which highlight the wide variety of streaming platforms that have emerged and been available to our members since traditional TV was phased out.

We were also proud to partner with our local senior center to donate a computer lab and provide relevant training, ensuring that anyone interested in new ways of connection or remote learning has the opportunity to do so.

While some organizations are national and others have a number of branches, for MTA, many of our employees are our members. Given that over 95% of our team lives in our service area, some of the most significant ways to create change in our community can occur right within our organization’s walls through training and continuing education opportunities, as well as investing in transformative workspaces.

As members of our community, we also celebrate all the ways our team has given back and encourage giving of all kinds. Through our annual Employee Giving Campaign, our employees’ generous pledges throughout the year will support local organizations such as Battle Dawgs, in which veterans are able to build comradery through mentorship and leadership activities. With dozens of veterans in our workforce, we will continue to draw attention to veteran issues and organizations that are working to make life better for them and our communities.

Whether focusing on veterans’ issues or any other subject, proactively drawing attention and funding to an issue that aligns with your organization’s values and workforce shows your community that you are doing more than just talking the talk.

While not all of these ideas will be applicable to every business or organization, it comes down to recognizing what needs your community has outside of technological connection, and what issues resonate strongest with them. 

The throughline for all of these is that being a provider of broadband and tech to your community is about more than just laying fiber—it’s about forging connections and helping that community grow.

About the Author

Jessica Gilbert | Director of Marketing & Communications, MTA

Jessica Gilbert is the Director of Marketing and Communications for MTA.

In addition to corporate communications, media relations, thought leadership, social media, product marketing, and more, Jessica leads MTA’s non-profit arm, the MTA Foundation, which provides grants and scholarships to students and organizations in MTA’s service area. She also has spearheaded MTA’s growing annual esports league, with all proceeds going toward the MTA Foundation.

A winner of Alaska’s Top Forty Under 40, Jessica previously served as a Corporate Communications Manager and Marketing Specialist with MTA. Prior to beginning at MTA in 2018, Jessica served in various roles at Wells Fargo. With her team at MTA, Jessica has prioritized collaboration, focused on creativity, and led with emotion—all while empowering the community around her.

Jessica enjoys volunteering for causes that support prevention and awareness around domestic violence, as well as other issues impacting the Women of Alaska. She is also passionate about the empowerment and education around Alaskan Native culture.

She is the proud mother of two and lives in the Greater Anchorage Area.

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