Revitalizing Rural - Equipping Rural Communities with Technology Literacy for Seizing Productivity
Lead PI:
John O'Hara

Lack of participation in the digital economy is an impediment to societal well-being and production which asymmetrically affects rural communities. The literature indicates that technological availability (e.g., broadband) is only a part of the problem: rural communities are not as active as their urban counterparts in technology adoption. The adoption problem covers the extent to which rural communities have the financial resources and awareness, skills, and aspirations (or collectively, the literacy) to seize the productivity opportunities afforded by smart and connected technologies (SCT). This planning project will conduct a pilot study to determine how improved technology literacy can impact the rural adoption of SCT for building productivity to economically and socially revitalize rural communities. Specifically, this project will explore the development of a novel educational tool for technology literacy called Productivity Enhancing Technology Experience-Kits (Pete-Kits). Pete-Kits will be combinations of low-cost devices such as microprocessors and sensors that make use of communications technologies like WiFi, Bluetooth, and Radio Frequency ID (RFID), and which can be combined with cloud connectivity to support high school students as they develop entrepreneurial SCT projects within their rural communities. These kits will be developed with input from high school students and community members. High school teachers and students will receive training on how to use the kits, and students will then be invited to develop their own SCT entrepreneurial projects which will be judged in a final community competition event.

The research will examine: (1) how rural awareness of SCT is influenced by hands-on experiences with Pete-Kits, (2) to what degree are the basic skills for using SCT increased through interactions with Pete-Kit, and (3) the effects are of Pete-Kit based training and competition on rural participants’ productivity, and their aspirations for entrepreneurship, remote work, and quality of life within their community. These questions will largely be addressed via survey instruments, administered both before and after the intervention, to both participants and to attendees of community events. Community forums and workshops will also be held to review the strengths and weaknesses of the Pete-Kit program, and to develop relationships with other communities and tribal nations for future scalability. This planning project aligns well with the Smart & Connected Communities program’s goal to accelerate the creation of the scientific and engineering foundations that will enable smart and connected communities to bring about new levels of economic opportunity and growth. This project is also receiving funding from the ITEST program, which has priorities for (1) increasing awareness of STEM & ICT occupations, (2) motivating students to pursue educational pathways to those occupations, and (3) developing disciplinary content knowledge and skills necessary for entering those occupations.

John O'Hara
John O'Hara received his BS degree in Electrical Engineering from the University of Michigan in 1998 and his Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering at Oklahoma State University (OSU) in 2003. He was a Director of Central Intelligence Postdoctoral Fellow at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) until 2006. From 2006-2011 he was a staff scientist with the Center for Integrated Nanotechnologies at LANL and work on numerous metamaterial projects involving dynamic control over chirality, resonance frequency, polarization, and modulation of terahertz waves. In 2011, he founded a consulting/research company, Wavetech, LLC, specializing in automation and IoT devices. In 2017 he joined OSU as an assistant professor in the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering. His current research involves terahertz wireless communications, terahertz sensing and imaging with metamaterials, IoT, light-based sensing and communications, and rural outreach and renewal. H has 4 patents and about 100 publications in peer reviewed journals and conference proceedings.
Performance Period: 10/01/2021 - 09/30/2023
Institution: Oklahoma State University
Sponsor: National Science Foundation
Award Number: 2125393