Jenny Rubio is a promising new powerhouse in the field of digital equity.
A recent graduate of the University of California, Berkeley, Jenny has been advocating for digital inclusion since high school.
“As a young adult,” she says, “I was entranced by the tech field and all that it promised. I tried to keep up with tech, and it was just exhausting. There are always new developments. I did this because I was interested in it, but imagine how many people have to keep up with tech just to survive.”
Indeed, many crucial everyday tasks have become digitized. In today’s society, banking, applying for jobs and social services, accessing healthcare portals, and even reading restaurant menus with QR codes all require digital skills.
Wanting to make a difference, Jenny participated in Ready, Set, Connect! during her junior year of high school in East Oakland. As part of this program, which was created by Community Tech Network, Jenny volunteered to provide tech support to local public library patrons. Her busiest days were when applications became available for things such as housing. “I was only 17 years old,” Jenny says, “and it was like ‘ding.’ I saw the importance of technology in accessing basic needs.”
One experience in particular was a “pivotal moment” for Jenny, as she began to recognize the difference that she could make. She recounts: “A man came in to ask for computer help. Before he even touched the computer, he told me his story. He was a retired mailman and a poet. He had seen a flyer about a poetry contest and submitted his work. He was selected as a finalist and invited to recite his work in a room full of world-renowned poets. He did and he won. He wanted to get online to copyright his poems so that no one could still steal his work. After telling his whole story, he looked at me and said, ‘Okay, now how do I turn this computer on?’”
Jenny wrote about this story in her personal statement as part of her college application. She says, “I was writing about the digital divide before I even knew the name for it.” Once in college, she majored in interdisciplinary studies with a focus on addressing inequities in technology. Some of her principal research addressed students’ access to technology (such as having a computer and broadband services at home) during the COVID-19 pandemic and how it impacted educational outcomes. Says Jenny: “Technology is often thought of as a luxury. But computers and the internet are intertwined with one’s basic needs fulfillment. For example, education is a basic right for everyone, and technology is used in schools and needed for homework assignments.”
Jenny recently joined the Community Tech Network team as a bilingual digital literacy instructor in Oakland. She says: “Someone might learn how to unlock their device and it can change their life. Or maybe they learn how to use email and now they can keep in touch with their family. Many of us take these skills for granted. How often do I unlock my phone and check my email each day? Being able to teach people these skills is definitely my favorite part of the job.”
Jenny is not stopping there, though. She plans to continue working on digital equity and even potentially doing more curriculum development. “If there’s a digital divide,” she says, “I think I’m in the middle of the bridge. I want to work with both younger and older people and connect these two worlds. By being bilingual in English and Spanish I can connect worlds in that way too. It’s really rewarding.”
“My vision is for different generations to collaborate to build resources that will be valuable to them. The more we empower communities to use these technologies and tools, the more they can fend for themselves. Communities take care of communities.”
To learn more about Jenny, see the Ready, Set, Connect! video that she is featured in.