Copyright 1997 CAUSE. From CAUSE/EFFECT Volume 20, Number 3, Fall 1997, pp. 32-35. Permission to copy or disseminate all or part of this material is granted provided that the copies are not made or distributed for commercial advantage, the CAUSE copyright and its date appear, and notice is given that copying is by permission of CAUSE, the association for managing and using information resources in higher education. To disseminate otherwise, or to republish, requires written permission. For further information, contact Jim Roche at CAUSE, 4840 Pearl East Circle, Suite 302E, Boulder, CO 80301 USA; 303-939-0308; e-mail: [email protected]
Bowie State University
On 320 acres of gently rolling countryside in the center of a triangle formed by Baltimore, Annapolis, and Washington, DC, lies Bowie State University.
Founded in 1865, Bowie State is one of the oldest historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) in the country. The more than 3,400 undergraduates and nearly 1,850 graduate students who make up the student body represent not only the Maryland region it serves, but also students from throughout the United States and more than 50 other countries.
Part of the University System of Maryland, Bowie State is a regional comprehensive university and offers undergraduate majors in more than 20 fields. The school takes pride in its close-knit community atmosphere and boasts a student to faculty ratio of 18 to 1.
Technology plays a critical role in the ongoing development of Bowie State, its students, faculty, administrators, and constituents. Threaded throughout its mission statement are reminders of the value placed on technology: "The University will enhance the quality of instruction and learning through a combination of traditional classroom teaching and application of telecommunication technologies. It will increase library access through increased technological support systems."
Bowie's technology role is apparent at the undergraduate level, where it specializes in the computer science curriculum. And at the master's level, the university produces more African American recipients of master's degrees in computer and information sciences than all but four other institutions nationwide. Also underscoring the University's commitment to technology is its special collaboration with NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, which has produced a number of research and outreach partnerships. In fact, Bowie State was one of only six institutions to be designated a Model Institution for Excellence, which was accompanied by a $27 million grant to Bowie State from NASA and the National Science Foundation.
This is borne out by developing programs that make it extremely easy for the users to get data they need to perform their tasks, rather than spending time struggling with the technology. It also is realized by making sure that faculty and staff receive the training they need to use the technology as a functional tool and are able to spend more time using it in such applications as teaching, communications, data evaluation, and analysis.
For example, using Microsoft Access, Watkins and his team have developed a series of front-end programs that allow authorized users access to the University's database. The programs, which are easy to use and incredibly fast, allow an almost instant delivery of data at the click of a mouse. The method of delivering this information is virtually transparent, which gives users time to concentrate on the analysis of the data, as opposed to the delivery system.
The next step, said Watkins, is moving much of this information to the Web. Especially useful on the Web would be programs such as the academic advisement package. "I'd like to have it so that if a student says, 'What happens if I change my major?' it shows them in a matter of seconds." According to Watkins, within seconds, from any Web site, students would be able to know which courses they've taken, how a change would affect their program, and what new courses they would be expected to take.
Watkins said Bowie State is moving toward a legacy database system, where OIT would maintain a single database, instead of the existence of multiple databases throughout campus. This would allow the University to maintain the integrity of its data and deliver a more functional and reliable system to the user.
Technology training is another critical factor at Bowie State, and much of this falls under the direction of the OIT. The University offers an extensive collection of training programs, ranging from an introduction to the personal computer to using sophisticated statistics programs such as SPSS. Also covered are courses for Windows, word processing, presentation and spreadsheet software, and Web and e-mail related programs.
Part of the success of the training program may be due to the fact that before faculty members get their own computers, they have to show they are competent in the use of technology. According to Bowie State University President Nathanael Pollard Jr., "Every faculty member who demonstrates competency in the use of the computer and shows how he or she will integrate it into their teaching will get a computer." This approach, says Pollard, has led to a well-trained faculty and staff.
Because it was recently constructed and wiring was built into it, Alex Haley Residence Hall is the only one of the University's four dormitories currently connected to the campus network. Work on connecting the other buildings began this semester.
BSOCC is a joint venture between BSU and NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, which is located just 10 miles from the University. Bowie State is the first university to receive a satellite collaboration with NASA. It's also the first and only HBCU to establish a satellite operation and control center on its campus.
|Tim Coulter (left), director of the Bowie State University Satellite Operations and Control Center (BSOCC), discusses satellite operations with students John Cook Jr., Traviss Green, and Michael Hillman in the center's Mission Operations Room. Coulter, who is on assignment to BSU from AlliedSignal Technical Services, is responsible for the daily operations of the BSOCC, recruiting and training the student Flight Operations Team, and coordinating all BSOCC activities with NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.|
The satellite that BSOCC controls is used to study the sun and the solar effects on the earth. It's known as SAMPEX, for Solar, Anomalous and Magnetospheric Particle Explorer.
Working in conjunction with NASA scientists and engineers and industry representatives, the select group of Bowie undergraduate students who make up the Flight Operations Team must first complete a rigorous training program before they take control of the SAMPEX satellite. BSOCC's Mission Operations Room contains the hardware required for satellite operation. Students use the room to measure "real-time" SAMPEX data concurrently with the Small Explorer and Mission Operation Center at Goddard.
According to Nagi Wakim, interim associate provost and dean of the School of Graduate Studies and Research, the primary purpose for BSOCC is to train a new generation of students in spacecraft operation and control. "We wanted to provide an opportunity for students who are pursuing a career in a technical area such as computer science, mathematics, or engineering, to have a chance to get some hands-on experience. So training students is our number one mission in spacecraft operation control."
The benefits of the Bowie and NASA partnership are well defined. Besides the practical hands-on training for the students, the university benefits by having the opportunity to develop a new curriculum centered on space operations. This also gives the University one more opportunity to infuse technology into every aspect of learning.
One of the goals of the MIE program is to "build a viable infrastructure of technology and people, capable of utilizing the cutting-edge information technology in every aspect of teaching, learning, and administration of the effective delivery of quality services to our students."
According to Wakim, who is the MIE director and principal investigator, this meant establishing computer labs and workstations that exceeded those typically found on campus. "Because of the needs in the sciences for computing that goes beyond the desktop PC-based applications, we decided to set up an SEM computing facility." As a result, computing in SEM is somewhat independent in respect to the programs and applications it uses, but it works closely with OIT when it comes to general computing. Where most of the campus runs Novell, the SEM facilities also operate in a UNIX and Windows-NT environment.
"We also installed fast Ethernet switches, so we actually have 10-megabit dedicated lines to each workstation, which is not the case throughout campus. We've done that with every computer-lab PC, as well as faculty and staff workstations, and we have a 100-megabit backbone running. We also have taken our network to the campus router, so that we have faster access to the external Internet line, rather than tie it into the campus network," Wakim said.
One example of the SEM facilities is the Scientific Data Visualization Laboratory. Established in January 1997, the lab gives students the opportunity to study the techniques and applications of visualization and spatial analysis in ecology, mathematics, and other disciplines where visualization can be applied. The students work with high-speed workstations from Sun Microsystems and Silicon Graphics, and use software that allows them to work with image processing, scientific visualization, geographic information system technology, remote sensing, Web development, and high-level graphics presentation.
As a result of their training and exposure, the Bowie State students are in demand. According to Wakim, many of the students, especially at the graduate level, are recruited by industry even before they receive their degrees. "We cannot keep our students around. Because of the environment and the tools the students have to learn with, industry is snatching them before they graduate."
As with most campuses these days, Bowie State is concerned with keeping its qualified information technology faculty and staff on board. According to Wakim, this is one of the greatest challenges. However, he notes, there are ways to keep your IT people coming back: "You have to be responsive; you have to continually upgrade skills and send them to training. You have to keep them abreast of what's going on; you have to keep their salaries up. Another thing that keeps them around is that we are always bringing in new systems and new software so that they don't get into that routine thing. I make sure that they are always challenged."
"If you look at the mission as approved by the Maryland Higher Education Commission and the board of regents of the University System of Maryland, you would find that a mandate to our institution is that we should become a premier institution in the application of technology to learning."
Other colleges and universities are embracing the use of technology in the delivery of education, but Bowie State plans to take it at least one step further. For example, not only is teaching with technology important, but validating and tracking the successful uses of teaching with technology allows Bowie State to share its knowledge and experiences with others.
"We have an opportunity at Bowie State University to be the authority on validating technological models for delivering instruction, for delivering service, and for delivering research."
Pollard sees Bowie State as a repository of models that work in technology. "If, for example, you want to know about a model that might work in a small classroom teaching English with technology, Bowie State University can pull it off the shelf and say, "Here's a model that works."
According to Pollard, the Bowie State collaboration with NASA, especially the BSOCC project (see article above), is an opportunity to develop teaching and technological models that can be transferred to any other department on campus, or shared with other institutions.
A new $21 million Center for Learning and Technology is expected to provide major impetus for not only integrating technology into academics at Bowie State, but also validating the effectiveness of technology in instruction. According to Pollard, the center will be equipped with the state-of-the-art resources for the delivery of instruction using various telecommunications means.
Delivery of courses on and beyond the Bowie State campus is something else Pollard views as part of the Bowie State mission. His vision is for Bowie State to use technology to deliver instruction not only in Prince George's County in Maryland, but around the state, the nation, and the world. Bowie State is well on its way to what Pollard calls "global connected learning." This, he notes, relies on connecting the various deposits of learning that are available elsewhere, with technology being the vital margin to add value to the learning process. Bowie State currently offers courses on four continents: North America, South America, Europe, and Asia.
Closer to home, Bowie State offers courses and services through its Telecommuting Center. The Center is part of a $1.4-million contract between the University and the General Services Administration in Washington, DC. Through the contract, Bowie State provides workstations for individuals who work for the GSA and who normally would commute to the District of Columbia, so they can come to campus to complete their work assignments. The Telecommuting Center also allows BSU to connect with community colleges throughout Maryland and with the National Guard network of learning centers to offer courses to these outlying institutions.
Pollard has every reason to believe that Bowie State will be at the forefront of the use of technology to deliver higher education. "I think that what we are doing at Bowie is not only innovative, it is setting a precedent for a regional comprehensive university, to give that kind of focus and dimension to the use of technology."
He cites winning a $27-million grant from NASA as an indication that Bowie is recognized as an institution on the cutting edge. Bowie was one of six to receive the grant, out of 25 applicants. Spelman College in Atlanta, which has the largest endowment of any HBCU, was one of the other recipients.
"We're in that league," said Pollard.
This article is based on a visit to Bowie State University by CAUSE Director of Publishing and Communication Services James Roche. CAUSE/EFFECT's Campus Profile department regularly focuses on the information resources environment -- information, technology, and services -- of a CAUSE member institution, to promote a better understanding of how information resources are organized, managed, planned for, and used in colleges and universities of various sizes and types.
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