American Connection Corps fellowship program aims to close digital divide

Gov. Laura Kelly joined Land O’Lakes and Lead for America at Alliance Ag & Grain in Spearville, Kansas, July 19, when they announced three American Connection Corps fellows who will be serving in the state. Beth Ford, president and CEO of Land O’Lakes, Inc., introduced the new fellows and the ACC program, which is aimed at bridging the digital divide.

Amalia Murguia, Jose Trejo and Christianna Mershon will work to increase broadband access and digital literacy and contribute to community development initiatives in Wabaunsee County and Wichita, Kansas.

Ford noted that broadband is a critical infrastructure investment and said 14.5 million Americans lack broadband connectivity today, though experts believe that number could be as high as 42 million. “Right here in Kansas, 173,000 people lack access to wired internet in their homes. This is not a luxury. This is a basic necessity of doing business today. It’s a basic necessity for the vitality of communities, for education, for healthcare access and for families to stay connected.”

Ford stressed that connectivity affects communities’ ability to compete in the global marketplace and their prosperity. “Kansas farmers, such as those working here with Alliance Ag & Grain, are great stewards of the land. Investment in broadband sets the stage for their success in the future,” Ford said.

Gov. Kelly also stressed the importance of investing in broadband in rural Kansas. “When it comes to broadband development, we all know that public-private partnerships are key—especially in our rural areas,” she said. “The American Connection Corps program is a perfect example of how we can leverage these partnerships to boost connectivity and uplift all communities. I want to thank Land O’Lakes and Lead For America for their commitment to expanding access to quality, affordable high-speed internet across our state and partnering with my administration to achieve our aggressive goals for broadband infrastructure improvements in Kansas.”

Murguia will be placed with the Office of Economic Development for Wabaunsee County government. In partnership with residents, small businesses, educators and local internet providers she will assess broadband needs and shortfalls, identify potential resources and programs to fill gaps and develop initiatives to improve digital literacy throughout the rural country.

Trejo will work with Empower Evergreen, a newly formed nonprofit organization focused on the holistic development of Wichita’s Hispanic community. He will help streamline work productivity for Hispanic-owned businesses by using broadband and identify ways to increase access to technology for education and workforce purposes for Hispanic children and families.

Mershon will be placed at Newman University in Wichita, where she will research and execute strategies focused on ways digital broadband can increase campus and community involvement. She will also identify barriers that limit access to the internet with a special focus on students from rural communities.

“Broadband deployment is a critical issue facing our rural communities, and I am pleased that this partnership will work to make broadband more accessible in states like Kansas,” Sen. Jerry Moran, R-KS, said in a prepared statement. “By improving rural internet capabilities, we are supporting businesses, tele-health and tele-education for people across rural America.”

Sen. Roger Marshall, R-KS, said in a statement, “Continued broadband deployment, especially in rural Kansas, is vital to our state’s continued economic growth and long-term prosperity. And while the federal government has numerous programs aimed at closing the digital divide, navigating those programs or even knowing where to begin can often be a challenge for small, rural communities. Connecting every home, business and farm will truly take an all-of-the-above approach and I applaud the efforts Land O’Lakes and its partners are dedicating to helping close the digital divide.”

Kansas Secretary of Agriculture Mike Beam said he appreciated that Kansas is one of the first states to roll out the ACC fellow program because it is one of the top five states in total market value for production. “The southwest quadrant of the state sticks out as one of the real economic engines, not just for Kansas but for the Midwest but for the entire country,” he said.

Murguia said she’s always wanted to come home and work somewhere in Kansas after growing up in Argentine, a Kansas City neighborhood. The prospect of being placed in a small community as an ACC fellow appealed to her.

“I’m excited to gain this perspective and experience in a small town to get a different facet of what Kansas is like,” she said. Murguia will work in Alma and Wabaunsee County on broadband access with local businesses and schools as a community focal point.

After an extensive application and interview process, the program selected 50 individuals to serve as boots-on-the-ground community leaders across the country. As part of the national Lead for America network, ACC fellows will have training on community organizing, broadband and digital inclusion.

ACC is funded with the support of 20 additional partner organizations, including: Land O’Lakes, Heartland Forward, CoBank, Tractor Supply Company, Microsoft, Mayo Clinic, Ariel Investments, Scoular, CHS, Zoetis, Tillamook County Creamery Association, Accenture, University of Minnesota, the American Farm Bureau Federation, Midwest Dairy, Purdue University, Partners for Education, CentraCare, Common Sense Media and University of Illinois Extension. For more information, visit

Shauna Rumbaugh can be reached at 620-227-1805 or [email protected].