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Institute for Emerging Issues

IEI Welcomes Jess Epsten to BAND-NC Team

The Institute for Emerging Issues (IEI) at NC State University is excited to welcome Jess Epsten as its new BAND-NC Project Specialist.

Q: Tell us a bit about your background and how you came to IEI.

A: I’ve worked in many different spaces but always melding community engagement and project management. Most recently as a librarian, I worked directly with the public to support their digital access and skill needs as well as on specific initiatives like digital navigation and Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) outreach in schools. Before becoming a librarian, I collaborated with small businesses and nonprofits, a lot of which involved digital skill building and coaching. I also ran a small vegetable farm with my partner in rural South Carolina where we had no access to broadband. All of these varied experiences have led me to working on digital equity at IEI!

Q: What interests you about working at IEI?

A: I am most excited to work on digital inclusion statewide! I grew up in Durham and lived for many years in western NC so I am really looking forward to getting to know more folks in the eastern part of the state. As a librarian I love researching and sharing resources so I’m ready to learn even more about initiatives and community work across the state and support making connections.

Q: You’ll be working with the BAND-NC program, IEI’s digital inclusion initiative. Why do you believe this program is important for our state?

A: Digital inequity has been an issue for decades, but the pandemic really highlighted the complex digital divides across our state and created a new sense of urgency. Everyone deserves access to affordable and high quality broadband, devices and digital skill training for work, school and just pure enjoyment! BAND-NC has a unique opportunity to support the amazing folks who work on these access issues by facilitating digital inclusion planning and implementation processes that involve community input and resource mapping. These digital inclusion plans will be helpful foundational tools for years to come.

Q: What do you believe is the biggest emerging issue facing our state?

A: There are so many different and intertwining issues facing our state today. One that really stands out to me is the lack of safe, affordable housing. This coupled with stagnant wages has created incredibly volatile and unsafe situations for so many people. We need more investment in both responsible development and better worker protections.

Q: What kinds of things do you like to do for fun?

A: I love going on hikes with my partner and friends and looking for fun plants, insects, herps, and birds. I also love baseball so catch me at a Durham Bulls game or announcing for the Miracle League of the Triangle!

Q: Is there anything else you want us to know about you?

A: I am passionate about harm reduction and destigmatizing substance use. I volunteer with the North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition and encourage folks to learn about the resources in their local communities as well as carry Naloxone. You can also learn more about the work statewide at

Contact Jess

BAND-NC Project Specialist