Making an Open and Accessible Future
Geoff Millener in his own words | A Network50 Spotlight
“So what do you do?”
I both dread and relish this question. Dread, as I don’t have a quick response. I do think I’ve gotten better at answering — eyes seem to glaze over less frequently than they once did, at least. (That or it’s just that people have learned to avoid me at parties?) And relish because, truly, I love my work.
As I think is true for many of the other Mozilla Network50 inductees, my official title is more of a jumping off point than an answer: I manage technology and innovation programs for The Public Education Foundation, a non-profit partner to schools in Hamilton County and the Gig City — Chattanooga, Tennessee.
From a community digital literacy and computer science initiative; to Teacherpreneur, a startup incubator for educators; to a public policy fellowship; to a host of small pilot programs developing and implementing next-gen technology, like integrating streaming 4K and LOLA into classrooms — what I do can seem disparate and disconnected. What unites this work, though — and what I think I might contribute to my community, the partnerships which make all of the above possible and to the health of the Internet — is a focus on educator voice and leadership, as well as in putting technology in the hands of individuals for whom it can make a difference now, not at some point in the future.
Public education is, to me, a central mechanism for long-term economic development and for equity; it determines the health of our communities and provides opportunity for those who grow up outside the social networks where good things seem to concentrate. And I think we have an untapped resource in educators — passionate, dedicated professionals who know first-hand the challenges our students face.
As emerging technologies continue to shape our world, the impact is deeper and successes quicker when innovation is informed by practitioners, when access is ubiquitous and advocacy is driven by those who devote their careers to the betterment of the next generation.
In a place like Chattanooga, education and the Internet go hand-in-hand. Thanks to EPB, our community has a fiber backbone which can reach every resident in the city — the kind of infrastructure that, unlike the highways of the 50s and 60s, has the potential to connect, rather than divide. How we treat that connectivity — how open and accessible we make the future not just for some, but all — defines us, and defines my work.
So what do I do?
I wake up every day, in this interstitial world between tech and community development, thinking about equity — about the importance of access and education to the success of individuals and of Chattanooga, the city I love and call home. I work with incredible partners, like Mozilla, The Enterprise Center and The Benwood Foundation, to make these ideas a reality. And I share our work and model with other communities, to build an inclusive and widespread network of innovation.
Geoff Millener is the Innovation and Technology Programs Manager at the Public Education Foundation Chattanooga, a strong Community Partner, a Mozilla Alum, a Hive Chattanooga member, and a member of our first cohort of “Network50.”