A Giant Digital Leap Forward

A partnership with Sun Microsystems will make Schulze Hall the most technologically advanced building on campus

Current University of St. Thomas undergraduate students were “born digital” – they have not lived in a time when digital technologies did not exist. Technology innovation and the “digital generation” have helped inspire St. Thomas’ newest building, Schulze Hall, and the School of Entrepreneurship it houses.

This spirit of innovation was foremost in the thoughts of College of Business Dean Christopher Puto and I as we began planning the technology environment at the School of Entrepreneurship. While it was fundamental to put innovative information technologies in the hands of faculty and students for teaching, learning and scholarship, it was central to the program to create the right technology environment to promote new research and development in business and entrepreneurship education, stimulate the development of technologies that help create or support new business ventures, and address real-life business challenges. The accomplishments of St. Thomas benefactor Richard M. Schulze served as an inspiration for these goals.

St. Thomas found two partners who shared these goals in Sun Microsystems and Cisco Systems, and together created the Sun Center of Excellence for Entrepreneurial Application of Innovative Information Technologies. Other partners also will support the center, including local  technology St. Thomas found two partners who shared these goals in Sun companies Ncell and Enventis, and Cisco partner IPcelerate.

Technological features at the Schulze School of Entrepreneurship and its Sun Center of Excellence include:

An integrated, open source environment – The Schulze School will deploy Sun “thin client” technology, or SunRays. SunRays will allow students, faculty and staff to use Sun’s Java Desktop System (JDS), a complete desktop environment built around open source software. With support from partner Cisco Systems, the Sun Directory will not only support JDS users but also network withWindows-based elements of St. Thomas’ technology infrastructure.

Stateless computing – SunRays plus Sun Java SmartCards will give students access to a stateless computing environment – one that will allow them to have their work follow them wherever they go. Students are able to capture their current desktop simply by removing their SmartCard from one workstation and inserting it into another along with their password. Cisco wireless access is available throughout the building as well.

Solaris 10 OS – JDS, the SunRay server software and the Sun Directory will run atop Solaris 10,  Sun’s sophisticated, new open sourced operating system.

Identity Management software – Sun’s Identity Management software will help link all the various back-end systems and directories involved in providing and managing the accounts and permissions users need when working on university systems.

State-of-the-art servers – The Sun software will run in load-balanced, fail-safe farms of Sun servers.

VoIP capabilities – Schulze Hall also will be the first building in which St.  Thomas provides desktop phones that function as network devices, using the same network as the computers rather than traditional phones. This Voice-over-IP (VoIP) system, in addition to reducing the cost of constructing and maintaining the building, will allow the phones to  be much more active and intelligent desktop tools through integration of voice and data. The VoIP system, as well as other network gear, is from Cisco Systems.

The rooms in Schulze Hall were designed with teaching, learning and innovation in mind. There are nine standard classrooms, one tiered classroom, one auditorium and five conference rooms.

Utilizing a full media control system, the nine standard classrooms will be able to project several computer and video inputs, reproduce program audio and allow for simple operation. The standard classrooms also are equipped with 16:9 projection screens that will display two different program sources simultaneously. Sources for the system include a permanent computer, a SunRay computer, laptop computer input, a high-resolution digital document camera and a DVD/VCR combination player. All equipment is mounted in a custom-designed teaching station.

To simplify operation for the end user, a media control system was incorporated with a large touch panel screen at the teaching station. The presenter will have the ability to access media source selection directly on the touch panel. When this is done, the control system will power-up the equipment, switch all components to the correct inputs and pre-set the audio system. Control over future lighting, video and audio conferencing may be facilitated as well.

The five conference rooms have features similar to the classrooms, but configured for a boardroom or conference room setting, and controlled from the conference table. The auditorium has a premier presentation and video recording system with the ability to record to videotape, DVD and hard drive. The system allows for manual or fully automated operation of the system. Controls for Schulze Hall also can be operated from remote locations.

While the presence of all this new technology has been subtly incorporated into the classrooms and public space of Schulze Hall, the impact on teaching and students will be readily apparent. Now, more than ever before, the digital generation of entrepreneurs at St. Thomas will have the tools they need to succeed.

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