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Fauquier High FFA Student Speaks at Microsoft Event

Fauquier High School sophomore McKenzie Hurley participated in a panel discussion hosted by Microsoft in Washington, D.C. last month.  Representing the National FFA Organization, Hurley joined two 4-H students to discuss the importance of bringing broadband to rural areas in the United States. The event provided an update to the Microsoft Airband Initiative that aims to bring broadband access to 3 million Americans by July 2022.

Microsoft’s Director of Education Policy, Allyson Knox, invited Hurley to join the discussion panel after the two met in the airport following the National FFA Convention. Knox said the interaction stuck with her, recalling how Hurley succinctly articulated the importance of the Microsoft – FFA partnership. Hurley, a strong advocate for the FFA as a leadership organization, was excited about the opportunity.

Mary Snapp, Corporate Vice President of Microsoft Philanthropies, facilitated the on-stage discussion in front of an audience of policymakers and representatives from the telecommunications world. The conversation focused on how lack of broadband impacts work and everyday life.

When asked how internet access affects her schoolwork, Hurley, a Delaplane resident, explained that completing essays and projects for school is often challenging due to slow internet. 

“I could do much more if I had access to the technology and broadband all students deserve,” she said.

She explained that before her schedule included a study hall, she would have to go to school early to complete her work. Internet access is not an issue at the Fauquier SPCA where she volunteers, however, thanks to a new cell tower in Casanova.

Before the student discussion, Microsoft President Brad Smith took the stage to explain the importance of closing the broadband gap.  Smith characterized the lack of broadband as an urgent problem, noting that up to half of the country’s population is not using the internet at broadband speeds. 

“Broadband has become the electricity of the 21st century,” said Smith. “The future of education requires that people connect to the internet at broadband speeds to do their homework and to pursue broader interests.” 

The Airband Initiative taps into TV white spaces to transmit signals at broadband strength through the airways using the available spectrum that was previously used by UHF or VHF television.

Smith also mentioned Microsoft’s plans to launch a new partnership with the FFA. “We will be working with FFA to provide computer science curriculum that they can, in turn, deploy with 11,000 teachers they partner with across the country,” he said.

Reflecting on the panel experience, Hurley said, “Being able to talk about it and share my community’s experience with lack of broadband was really special.  I got to advocate for something that is really important that people don’t think about.”

To learn more about Microsoft’s Airband Initiative and to watch the panel discussion, view the webcast.