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President’s Report August 2023

lightbulb tree with 'innovate' written

It’s been a long, hot summer at the world’s only nonprofit focused on improving the lives of Chatham, NC, residents through technology.  Innovate Chatham uses our network of members and friends to help other nonprofits, residents, students, schools, and County government.  We focus on digital inclusion, STEM education, and monthly free public presentations on technical topics of interest.  Here is my report on what we have been doing lately.

Chatham Tech Talk


Tim Steiner gave a valuable talk on cybersecurity in July at 79°West.  If you missed it, here is a full report, including links to tools mentioned by Tim and the video of the talk, courtesy of Chatham Journal.

Cybercrime’s Devastating Impact on Chatham County and 3 Preventative Steps for Residents – Innovate Chatham


The traffic circle in “Pittsbeero” is the home of Havoc Brewing and the site of the the August 17 Tech Talk.   Michael Pipkin explained the Science of Brewing.  Michael is a great speaker and expert in this area, plus he is a very nice guy, which made for an amazing evening.

Michael Pipkin of Havoc Brewing giving Tech Talk on the Science of Brewing
Michael Pipkin of Havoc Brewing giving Tech Talk on the Science of Brewing

Here is the video of the event:  The Science of Brewing Beer

We have a few ideas for future presentations, but nothing lined up at this moment for September.  If you have seen a good talk lately or know someone who would like to present at topic, please let me know!

More information about Tech Talks is on our website here.

Digital Inclusion Plan

Grant Opportunities

The Chatham County Digital Inclusion Plan is working toward approval by Chatham County Government, but the county has already started using it to seek grants.  One of these grants is the Digital Champion Grant Program.  “The explicit goal of this grant opportunity is to build capacity to develop or expand digital equity programs in communities across North Carolina.  The grant has a $14 Million dollar funding pool, and applicants will be able to apply for up to $400,000 per county.”  Grants will be available later this year for programs related to digital literacy, including teaching computing and helping folks use computers, for computing devices to increase accessibility, for creating spaces such as those for telehealth and learning.  The grants need to target populations in need including rural residents and low-income households, veterans, minorities, those with language barriers, and seniors.

While that is happening, let me share some of the content of the Plan.  The Plan consists primarily of three sections: Availability, Access, and Adoption.   For many readers, the main focus will be Availability, which is about whether or not your home has internet that you could purchase or not, and if so, at what speed. 

Innovate Chatham has been sharing this opportunity with other nonprofits.  We will be looking to see how we can help directly.  Please let me know if you would like more information or have some ideas.

Digital Inclusion Plan: Availability

Last month I shared the Goal 1 strategies from the plan about mapping internet availability.  Here are Goals 2 and 3.

Goal 2 is specifically focused on underserved areas:

Goal 2 Digital Inclusion Plan





The first two Strategies are how we want to focus our grant money.  The third are other ways we might be able to help.  The county is already allowing service providers access to public infrastructure such as their radio towers and has installed fiber for county purposes that can be used by providers.

Goal 3 contains strategies that would help all residents in more general ways:

Goal 3 Digital Inclusion Plan

The Plan includes some ideas about possibly changing the current laws.  NC is one of the only states that bans local governments from providing broadband per a law passed in 2011 (2011-84), as it might have damaged private businesses.  I believe internet service has moved from a luxury to a necessity in the past 12 years.  As such, NC should probably revise these laws so that local government will serve areas with low population density, at least as a last resort.  Another alternative would be to make internet providers into public utilities. 

Barring a change in legislation, grants will be used to attempt to entice internet providers into the remaining areas of Chatham.  The county government will be working to get the most possible from whatever grant money comes to us, and Innovate Chatham will continue to help in whatever way we can.

Digital Inclusion Help

This month Innovate Chatham was at some Chatham Health Alliance “Resource Hub” events held a few times per month in various underserved locations around the county.  We were at Washington Park in Siler City passing out flyers on the ACP internet discount program and for the Kramden free computer program for students of households without computers.  And we were at Virginia Cross Elementary handing out flyers and teaching kids some STEM with our tower-building challenge.

Tych Cowdin and Shirille show how to make elephant toothpaste
Tych Cowdin and Shirille show how to make elephant toothpaste
Jesse and Pete handing out flyers for free computers and discounts on internet at the tower-building station.
Jesse and Pete handing out flyers for free computers and discounts on internet at the tower-building station.


STEM Education

One opportunity for kids to learn about computing is the Congressional App Challenge.  Chatham has had winning entries in the past few years, including last year.  I am working with a young man to help him learn to code, and this would be an excellent opportunity for him. 

Sadly, Chatham County is in NC District 9, and Rep. Richard Hudson is not participating this year.   I have contacted his office and explained that this is a missed opportunity.   Please let me know if you have any contacts with his office and would like to help change a mind.

Erin Denniston, STEM Guru, has provided 4 STEM Club sessions at the Pittsboro Boys and Girls Club for about 20 kids and will continue for the remaining summer. Don Kallgren is also helping there, teaching the kids to build freestyle with Lego kits.

Erin at the Pittsboro Boys and Girls Club
Erin at the Pittsboro Boys and Girls Club
Boys and Girls Club Director, Traci Newby, and a young engineer showing off her creation.
Boys and Girls Club Director, Traci Newby, and a young engineer showing off her creation.

Innovate Chatham arranged four sessions for the Chatham County School program for IT interns at Seaforth High School.  Grant Leonard presented careers in Cybersecurity, Tim Steiner explained his career as an ethical hacker.  Kyle Shipp presented his career in massive data center HVAC systems design and operation.  Also, I presented career choices and critical thinking skills.

Kyle Shipp at Seaforth
Kyle Shipp at Seaforth

Miscellaneous Tech Notes

In case you missed it, I wrote an article on a possible future solution to a priority problem for Chathamites—water contamination.

Future Solution to Chatham PFAS Water Contamination?

Do you have kids or teach kids?  There has been plenty of worry about using AI to cheat.  I have not seen enough of the use of AI-powered systems for teaching.  That makes a new development from Khan Academy very interesting.   Khan Academy will begin integrating AI into its fantastic educational materials—for example, their new Khanmigo tutor.  Khanmigo Education AI Guide | Khan Academy  One of the most exciting ideas is using AI to take a side and debate a child on a topic.


I’m still learning about how to use ChatGPT and other models.  A professor wrote an interesting guide explaining how to improve the AI’s results.

How to use ChatGPT to boost your writing (

Volunteer Opportunities

We are always interested in having additional volunteers.  In most cases, we prioritize opportunities based on volunteer interest.  So, let me know if you would like to help with any of these things, or you can suggest possibilities for us to help:

  • Technical topic presentation – we need topic and presenter suggestions
  • STEM Club – we need volunteers to help in the Fall, maybe this summer
  • Instructor’s aides for basic computer classes
  • Tech Career Fairs – we always need a list of people to describe and discuss their tech careers at various high schools.
  • Science Fairs Judges – needed for Fall and spring to judge science and engineering projects while encouraging kids
  • Help with an ACP event – we would like to hold a few events to help folks complete the Federal discount program for internet access. This requires a couple of hours of free online training.
  • Congressional App Challenge – we would like to help middle and high schoolers build their own simple software app that they can submit for recognition in a contest. [Not available this year due to nonparticipation of NC disctrict 9.]
  • Search engine optimization help, and social media help

Please let me know, and we can chat further about your interests.

You are very welcome to share this newsletter with anyone you like.

Thanks for your membership and participation!

Not a member?  If you like our work at Innovate Chatham, please consider joining us as a paid member, which helps us cover the expenses of running a nonprofit.

Burney Waring
Innovate Chatham President

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