Students Cruise the Information Superhighway

Feb 15th, 2000 | By | Category: 11-3: Native Language, Tribal College News
By Jake Kapsner

Children learn to enjoy computers at summer camps. Pictured are fourth graders Rebecca and Leanne with their instructor, Marlys Plucinak. Photo by Jonathan Chapman

Staying busy is no problem for Rich Murto. As the person responsible for maintaining the computer resources of the secondary schools, business operations, and community library of the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, Murto is a key player in an initiative aimed at boosting the number of American Indians who pursue careers in computer science.

The initiative, administered by Fond du Lac Tribal & Community College in Cloquet, Minn., is funded by a $1.38 million grant from the National Science Foundation. It has brought a modern computer infrastructure to the reservation community. When Murto started working for the Fond du Lac Education Division, the Ojibwe School’s technology infrastructure was limited to12 ancient PCs. By 1994, the first year of the NSF grant, Murto had increased that number to 65. Today, the Fond du Lac Ojibwe School boasts a modern computer infrastructure with 135 computers — not a bad ratio for a school with 200 students, he said. They’ve also installed new PCs in every elementary and high school classroom.

The NSF funding helped Fond du Lac link its tribal center, elementary school, and high school to the college using a wide area network of underground fiber-optic lines. It pays for Internet service. The tribe also wants to connect the casino and health clinic to the wide area network and to supply them with Internet access.

“The project has really springboarded the local school system and community into the Internet era,” said FDLTCC President Lester Jack Briggs. The NSF-funded initiative exposes children to the potential of computers, capturing their interest before they become intimidated by the technology. “We start ’em young here,” Murto said. Kids are introduced to computers in the Head Start preschool program, and the K-12 curriculum incorporates computer activities in every facet of a child’s education.

In addition to maintaining this new technology and planning for further expansion, Murto spends his summers helping young people learn the tools of the trade. He has taught at one of four summer camps sponsored by FDLTCC as part of the NSF-funded initiatives. High school students under his tutelage created Web pages with photographs that show the summer program in action. (See

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