St. John's University Outfits Students With the Technology Needed to Learn and Succeed

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Students nationwide are seeing hotspots pop up on their college campuses as an ever-increasing number of schools adopt wireless technology. But the education sector is not alone in this wireless revolution: Following the lead of today's top schools, businesses are implementing Wi-Fi technology in the workplace, providing employees with an increased sense of freedom and flexibility.

At St. John's University in New York, we recognized that students would be better prepared for the emerging wireless workplace if they had access to wireless technology while in college. But we knew we had to overcome cost and ease-of-use barriers in order for students to take advantage of these new wireless technologies. Our solution was to supply the 3,100 incoming freshmen with IBM ThinkPad notebooks (www.ibm.com).

Wising Up to Wireless

We envisioned a wireless network that would not only offer our students unwired connectivity in high-traffic areas such as the student center and college quad, but also the ability to easily and wirelessly access the university library, register for classes, as well as have a more interactive relationship with their professors and fellow students. To provide our students with an integrated wireless solution, St. John's partnered with leading technology vendors IBM, Intel and Cisco.

We installed more than 200 Cisco Aironet 1200 Series Access Points (www.cisco.com) across our campuses, which are located throughout the New York metropolitan area in Queens, Staten Island, Manhattan and Oakdale. This created a wireless infrastructure that could provide seamless network access to the IBM ThinkPads. Supporting data rates of up to 11 Mbps, the Cisco Aironet 1200 Series extends end-to-end intelligent networking to the wireless network, delivering industry-leading security, manageability and reliability.

We selected the IBM ThinkPad R40 because of its superior performance, ease of use and enhanced security capabilities. It was also important to provide students with the flexibility to easily move between wired and wireless environments without having to reboot their PCs, which IBM has enabled through its Access Connections software. The ThinkPad can sense a wired or wireless LAN connection and switch between these profiles based on priority or speed. This allows students to easily switch from wired LAN connections in their dormitories or homes to wireless hotspots in the library without manually switching profiles. In addition, the ThinkPad R40 comes equipped with the IBM Embedded Security Subsystem, which uses an encryption engine that is based in both the hardware and software to fend off hackers and protect students' personal data and passwords.

Reaping the Benefits

Since the beginning of the fall semester, students have enjoyed the flexibility and freedom accompanying the school's wireless laptop distribution program. The "universal access" provided by IBM and Cisco has allowed students and faculty to easily interact using IM tools and e-mail, fostering enhanced student-professor relationships. Peer relationships have also improved as students find themselves collaborating on assignments, sharing expertise and helping one another.

With Cisco Aironet WLANs creating virtual classrooms, we are looking at a potential savings of $20-$30 million in classroom building costs. Most important, ThinkPads give students the opportunity to incorporate wireless technology into their everyday lives. Connecting to wireless hotspots to check e-mail between classes, researching assigned topics during class, and getting a jump-start on homework during their commute home, students are taking advantage of these new wireless tools. As students continue to master the technology, our hope is that they'll find themselves a step closer to succeeding in their future careers.

- Dr. James Benson

This article originally appeared in the 03/01/2004 issue of THE Journal.

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