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Building Computer Laboratories Through Equipment Grants (III)

Building Computer Labs: The University of Texas - Pan American

The University of Texas - Pan American (UTPA) will be used here to provide a case study in the construction of computer laboratories through equipment grants. UTPA is a somewhat new member of the University of Texas system having joined in 1989. UTPA is located in south Texas, near the Mexican border.

The economy of the area along with the political climate makes UTPA interesting. The economy is relatively poor with a majority of the students receiving various forms of financial aid. A law suit against the University of Texas in the late 1980's indicated that the state had overlooked higher educational needs of the region in the areas of science and engineering. Due to these two factors, the computer infrastructure of the university had been lacking until recently.

UTPA used to have several separate computer labs, each run by a single academic department (e.g., a computer science lab, a business administration lab, an engineering lab). In 1994, UTPA opened a state-of-the-art centralized computer building for all computer users.

Centralizing all student computers gave all of the students on campus equal access to computer hardware and software. This move also allowed the university to supply computers in a more cost-effective manner. The savings obtained from centralizing computers was then used to provide additional computer hardware and software, and a more robust network. Additionally, centralization allowed for more hours of access during the week.

The single problem identified with this action has been the sacrifice that many of the academic departments have taken in giving up their independent computer labs. More recently, several departments, including Computer Science and Engineering, have requested their own labs. The university administration has complied with these requests as long as the departments could obtain the equipment without increasing their budget. Naturally, equipment grants have been the method of choice. Among the various companies to provide donations, Intel Corporation has played a very large role.

The Department of Computer Science has benefitted from two recent Intel donations. The first donation was provided after members of the department submitted an equipment proposal to establish a "CS I" laboratory. An Intel donation in 1995 provided 23 Pentium processor-based PCs and two PC servers. Since this donation, the lab has been used almost continuously.

The lab has three distinct uses. First, it serves as a closed lab for CS I classes as needed. Classes are held in the lab between twice a semester and weekly depending upon the teacher's instructional methodology. Second, it is used by CS I students outside of class to complete their projects. Third, it is used by all university students for other applications (e.g., email, word processing) when computers in the room are available and the room is not specifically being used by a CS I class.

In 1997, the department submitted a new equipment proposal to Intel to establish a small "Advanced Studies" laboratory of higher-end personal computers. Intel donated 11 Pentium II based personal computers. This lab has been established to offer computer access to students in upper level undergraduate computer science courses and graduate courses. The lab was set up during the Fall, 1997 semester, and has been used by several junior and senior level classes and many of the graduate students. The laboratory is being enhanced with the addition of four departmentally-purchased Sun Sparc workstations.

A third Intel donation was made during the Spring, 1998 semester of 11 personal computer processing units without keyboards, monitors or mice. The department is planning on requesting that the university administration purchase the missing components to help fill out a third departmental laboratory.

The Department of Engineering has also greatly benefitted from a close relationship with Intel. Intel began a "campaign for engineering" over a three year period. It consisted of three separate donations that allowed the department to build several personal computer laboratories. In Spring, 1992, there was a donation of 2 486-computer systems and 14 386-computer systems. A second donation, a year later, consisted of 24 486-computer systems to be used by Engineering graphics courses. A final donation, a year later, equipped the department with computers for CAD/CAM courses. These donations included some software and a full year of hardware maintenance.

Both departments have also submitted proposals to Texas Instruments and are awaiting feedback.

In 1997, several faculty in different departments opened up a dialog with IBM under the IBM Cooperative Partnership Agreement. The agreement had IBM donating equipment with the university matching the amount by supplying software and additional hardware. In this case, IBM donated a RISC 6000 server specifically for faculty use. Intended uses include parallel simulations, dynamic search engines for web-based multimedia, numerical finance, 3-D information visualization, simulation of heat transfer and analysis and sharing of remote sensing geological data. Initial system maintenance has been provided by IBM and will be picked up by the university as part of its matching funds.

Conclusion
The movement towards computer-enhanced curriculum has swept across most universities. Demands for computer-based education and the growing number of education-related computer applications require that computer equipment be available. And in spite of the cheapness of personal computers, the cost is often prohibitive.

Computer equipment grants from major computer corporations has been a weapon to battle these costs while building computer laboratories. The motivations from the corporation perspective are primarily to build a relationship with the university, to obtain name recognition with the students, and to create opportunities for both the students and the corporations in terms of experiences and job prospects. This paper has outlined the rationale of computer equipment grants from the perspective of both the donor and the recipient. This paper has also offered an example of recent equipment grants to the University of Texas - Pan American.

Acknowledgments

The author wishes to thank the efforts of Cheryl Klink for her help with research, proofreading and wonderful comments. The author would also like to thank Nora Vasilescu for the opportunity to submit this article.

References

[1] IBM grants applications guidelines. IBM newsletter.

[2] Campus-wide computing. Communications of the ACM. 41(1), January, 1998.

[3] Branscum, D. Recycling Macs. Macworld. 12(1):167-168, January, 1995.

[4] Burg, J. and Thomas, S. Computers across campus. Communications of the ACM. 41(1):22-25, January, 1998.

[5] Burton, K. Outdated MIS curricula at core of graduate drought. Computerworld. 19(10):26-27, March, 1985.

[6] Davis, L. The university connection. Datamation, 35(18):69-72, September, 1989.

 

[7] Jones, P. Wither humanities and advanced technologies? Educom Rev., 32(1), Jan/Feb 1997.

 

[8] Watters, C., Conley, M. and Alexander, C. The digital agora: Using technology for learning in the social sciences. Communications of the ACM. 41(1):50-57, January, 1998.

 

Richard Fox
Department of Computer Science
The University of Texas - Pan American
1201 W. University Dr.
Edinburg, TX 78539

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