What do Douglas County, Ga., Council Bluffs, Iowa, and Mayes County, Okla., have in common? They all have school districts that have reaped the benefits of a Google data center in their respective communities.
Google has proven time and again that while it prefers keeping a low profile when setting up shop in communities, it does not hold back when it comes to technologically enhancing the lives of students.
Just Peachy in Georgia
Consider Google’s presence in the Atlanta region of Douglas County, where it has operated a data center since 2003 and invested a total of over $1.2 billion.
Since 2011, Google reports it has awarded more than $7.5 million to Georgia nonprofits and schools. One of the most recent examples occurred when a $24,000 Google-powered classroom grant was provided in August 2018 to help Douglas County students who face barriers to communication.
The grant is designed to enhance the communication skills of students who are non-verbal, functionally non-verbal, have difficulty producing speech, or who may otherwise experience communications challenges, a news release stated.
Made possible by the Tides Foundation and Google Data Centers Grant Fund, iPads and mini iPads are now in the hands of several Douglas County students. These electronic learning tools have been enhanced by the addition of various communication apps, making it possible for these students to get an edge on classroom learning.
A similar story is unfolding in Council Bluffs, Iowa, where Google has two data centers, one near Lake Manawa that opened in 2009, and the Southlands facility that opened in 2013.
Since opening its first Council Bluffs Google data center, the search giant has worked with local organizations in myriad ways — from promoting science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education to helping small businesses get online. In 2011, the company also partnered with the city of Council Bluffs to roll out the Omaha metropolitan area’s first free public Wi-Fi which is available in and around five areas of the city.
In 2017, Google announced it would partner with the Council Bluffs Community School District and provide a $50,000 grant toward the district’s virtual technology art program. With the grant funding, the district will buy a Google Tilt Brush, which will allow students to create virtual works of art. The district will work with virtual artists — either in person or in a Google Hangout setting — to help the students, according to an article in The Daily Nonpareil.
At the same time, Google also unveiled a mural by Iowa artist Gary Kelley that stands 80 feet high and 300 feet wide on an outer wall of the Google data center that faces Interstate 29.
Photo by Joe Shearer / The Daily Nonpareil
The colorful mural depicts the evolution of information sharing in Council Bluffs. Kelley's larger-than-life monotype tells a visual narrative of this history through several monotype images, from Lewis and Clark to today. Moving from right to left, the mural depicts explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark conferring with a member of the Otoe Native American tribe, a man using a telegraph, a land surveyor and Google employees working in the data center. The background features a locomotive with boxcars, bison and a Native American.
The Council Bluffs mural is part of a larger Google Data Center Mural Project in which muralists reimagine the facades of Google Data Centers. Google says the project is designed to bring a bit of the magic from the inside of its data centers to the outside.
Small Town, Big Impact
Mayes County, Okla., is also home to a vibrant Google data center mural thanks to the company's 2007 arrival to a site near the small town of Pryor. The data center, located just south of Pryor, serves large portions of the West and Midwestern regions of the United States and features an enormous mural comprised of four circles.
Digital artist Jenny Odell created collages made up of bits and pieces of satellite imagery collected from Google maps which were then hand-painted by several workers. The mural represents the flow of goods, power and information — not unlike data centers themselves, according to Google.
Aside from the aesthetic appeal that Google has given its Mayes County, Okla., data center, the company has supported and assisted financially challenged schools in the area. While many Oklahoma school districts are enduring funding woes due to plummeting state revenue levels, Mayes County area schools have enjoyed substantial financial, technological, and volunteer support — all thanks to Google.
Since 2007, Google has invested $2.5 billion in Mayes County, and has awarded more than $2 million in grants to Oklahoma nonprofits and schools since 2011 in areas including science and technology education, carbon reduction, and access to the internet.
Grant recipients include Pryor Public Schools, Oklahoma State University, Adair Public Schools, Salina Public Schools, Learn to Code Inc., Chouteau Mazie Public Schools, Locust Grove Schools, Thunderbird Youth Academy, and many other entities.
Google’s impact on rural schools in Mayes County has been well documented and has come in the form of Chromebook laptops, internet access, STEM education resources, and exposure to a world that is traveling at warp speed.
But beyond the hardware, the tech goliath has also helped Mayes County area schools through Google mentors who help with robotics teams and in classrooms, consulting on various tech-related endeavors, and more. In fact, in October 2018, Pryor Schools installed an "anatomage table,” a dissection table that shows skeletons and the human body. Instead of a picture in a book, high school students can get an in-depth look through 3D graphics. The device was made possible through a partnership with a Google grant.
The above stories barely begin to scratch the surface of the remarkable impacts Google has had on the communities it resides in. Currently, Google operates seven data centers in the United States, but that number is increasing. Earlier this year, the company broke ground on data centers in Alabama and Tennessee, and purchased 375 acres of land in Midlothian, Texas.
More data centers are most certainly in the works as Google feeds the world’s insatiable appetite for information storage. While data centers, in general, may not translate into lofty numbers of new jobs for communities, they do translate into valuable benefits that are equally compelling — educationally, technologically, and economically.
Google has said it is most proud of its investments in its local communities through workforce development and education, as well as its community grants that support local initiatives like installing Wi-Fi on school buses for kids with long commutes and partnering with school districts to develop STEM programs.
History shows that when Google plants a data center, what subsequently sprouts in the respective communities is exciting, authentic, and enduring. The tech giant is building not only brick-and-mortar information powerhouses, but also knowledge in our youngest digital pioneers.
Indeed, it’s tomorrow in progress today.
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