Thompkins overcomes hurdles to fulfill contract benefiting Native students
Catherine Thompkins, IT senior project manager for Cherokee Nation Technologies (CNT), is enhancing learning opportunities for Native American students through the installation of Wi-Fi hotspots in school buses across the U.S.
On Native American reservations, students can commute for more than an hour to get to school. With technology essential for nearly all grades, the absence of an internet connection means homework often has to wait. As part of a contract with the Bureau of Indian Affairs, CNT was tasked with installing Wi-Fi hotspots on 25 of the longest school bus routes on Native American reservations, totaling 19 school districts across multiple states. Catherine played a significant role in fulfilling the contract by the September 2020 deadline.
“It was sometimes the most frustrating project I’ve had because of the circumstances,” Thompkins says. “On the other hand, it was one of the most rewarding.”
Social distancing and other COVID-19 guidelines made completing the work a challenge. Per the terms of the contract, the hotspots could only be installed if five or more buses were available in one location at the same time. With schools transitioning to virtual learning, getting in touch with administrators to help coordinate with bus drivers was difficult at times.
“I had to coordinate as many buses as I could to locations,” she explains. “In South Dakota, we had to find a way to get a hold of the superintendents and get their buses to Crazy Horse.”
Despite the various obstacles, including COVID-19 setbacks as well as wildfire damage to two schools, Thompkins said she is proud of the service she was able to provide to the schools, as well as the communities. With virtual learning now being the norm across the country, these buses have been repurposed to give some town centers and other populated areas on reservations access to Wi-Fi until in-person classes resume.
“It’s fulfilling to know those buses are not sitting idle. It’s my understanding that in some cases they’ve been used to even deliver food,” Thompkins remarks. “We know those kids aren’t in school, but they’ll be back.”
Thompkins' work on the project during these unusual circumstances did not go unnoticed. She received a letter of appreciation from Tara Katuk Mac Lean Sweeney, the Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs.
“Ms. Thompkins has exhibited true dedication and shown exemplary customer service in working with all parties involved in this project,” Sweeny says. “She escalated issues to senior management to break logjams and keep the project on track. She developed ways to use geographic proximity to maximize the installer's time. The project was completed ahead of the given deadline thanks to Ms. Thompkins' professionalism and dedication.”
WHO WE ARE
Cherokee Nation Technologies is part of Cherokee Federal, a team of tribally owned federal contracting companies focused on building solutions, solving complex challenges, and serving the nation’s mission around the globe for more than 60 federal clients. Cherokee Federal’s team of companies, with more than 3,300 employees, manages nearly 2,000 projects of all sizes across the construction, consulting, engineering and manufacturing, health, and technology portfolios.
Cherokee Federal is a division of Cherokee Nation Businesses, the economic engine of Cherokee Nation, the largest Native American tribe in the U.S. Its mission is to diversify and grow the economy of Cherokee Nation. Company profits support future business investments, as well as programs and services for tribal citizens. Cherokee Federal also believes in the value of a diverse workforce and in investing in the brightest talent to keep the company moving forward.