Digitally Transforming a Rural U.S. School District Pro Bono

Oct 2, 2017 12:00 PM ET

Originally posted on RADIUS

“Rural school districts in the U.S. struggle to deliver the same educational experiences provided by their larger suburban and urban peers…Technology…holds great promise for rural communities working to improve outcomes for students and leverage their existing resources toward even greater impact.”1

The VMware Foundation’s Good Gigs program is a unique leadership development opportunity for VMware people to grow through immersive Service Learning by applying their professional skills to  social impact initiatives with a small, diverse, and cross-functional team of colleagues. In 2017, the VMware Foundation pioneered its first U.S. project (or “Trek”) in Utah with 12 employees (or “Trekkers”) from around the world, including various U.S. locations, as well as Bulgaria, Costa Rica, India, and Ireland. Within a larger ecosystem including Canvas, the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN), Dell, the Southwest Educational Development Center (SEDC), Team4Tech, and the Utah Education and Telehealth Network (UETN), Trekkers provided technology support to Millard School District, a rural district of  approximately 3,000 students in central Utah.

In Millard County, Utah, where the population density is as low as two people per square mile, Internet in homes is not ubiquitous, and students can spend several hours traveling to school and daily sporting events. As expressed by Millard School District’s Technology Director, Kevin Chapman, “We do not want our children to be disadvantaged just because of where they live.” To bridge the growing digital divide that is prevalent in much of the U.S., the district’s administration embarked upon this Personalized Learning Initiative, fueled by technology and accelerated by the Good Gigs team.  

Discovery Assessment
A small team of Trekkers undertook an initial Discovery Assessment visit to understand the needs and constraints of Millard School District. Observations and interviews uncovered aging technical infrastructure and a wide range of digital literacy among district teachers. The resulting Good Gigs Trek scope became:

  • Professional Technical Development—Empowering teachers with learning tools and classroom management strategies enabled by technology.
  • Technology Upgrade—Upgrading and improving hardware and software with in-kind donations from Dell and VMware.
  • Adoption Strategy—Motivating and enabling teachers to empower students with change management and communications strategies and tools.

Building Connections
“The most common question I heard was, ‘Why here?’” says Marisa Glassman, senior global giving manager of the VMware Foundation. “The Millard School District staff and teachers took some time to understand why we cared enough to send technology professionals from around the world to their small town to help their kids.”

The team listened, built relationships, and continually adjusted their plans accordingly. Because of the trust built, the team quickly established close bonds with the community and fast-tracked the district’s digital transformation. The above video highlights the VMware Foundation’s Good Gigs program and the power of the relationships built in Utah’s Millard County School District.

Leadership Development for All
Good Gigs enables professionals to use their skills for social impact while developing global leadership mindsets. “The servant leader is servant first. It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve. After the Good Gigs Trek, this sounds logical. Service predicates leadership. Service is leadership,” says Steve Kemp, director of U.S. West TAM Program.

The Good Gigs Trek was the catalyst that Millard School District staff said they needed to gain momentum and succeed in their digital transformation. “You energized this community. Teachers are now talking about technology integration and making things better for our students. Your influence hopefully will be the beginning of great things for us,” said David V. Styler, superintendent of Millard School District.   


1 Edvance Research (2015). “How Technology Can Boost Productivity in Rural School Systems.”