Go wireless at Pima Northwest - The Explorer: Import

Go wireless at Pima Northwest

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Posted: Wednesday, September 24, 2003 11:00 pm | Updated: 7:47 am, Thu Mar 24, 2011.

It's hard to study when your notebook pages are flapping in the wind.

But for students at Pima Community College's new northwest campus at 7600 N. Shannon Road, it's a shame not to study outside.

On a good day, dramatic clouds rise above the geometric lines of clay-colored buildings in the school's amphitheater area. A horse sculpture and flowering vines add to the area's appeal.

Outside the cafeteria, the Tucson Mountains provide a restful eyeful for students picnicking at umbrella-covered tables.

With such lures away from study desks and fluorescent lights, what's a student to do?

How about Web-based study - outside?

Most students don't know it yet, but Pima Co-mmunity College Northwest Campus has state-of-the-art wireless Internet access. Soon, students will be able to open their laptops at most gathering spots on campus and browse the Web without cords.

"One of our primary advantages is that we are so new," said Jeff White, the information technology supervisor for the campus, which opened its doors last month to its first batch of students. "Wireless networking became popular as we were going through our design plans."

By the first day of classes, Aug. 25, the Internet was accessible without cords in the campus library.

That wasn't heavily advertised, though, because the system is still being tested, White said.

"Some people have heard about it through the grapevine," he said. "One of the students brought her computer in and had me configure it for her."

Within two or three weeks, wireless access should be available most anyplace on campus a student would want to hang out.

Students will be able to conduct Google searches for "alternative business models" over snacks in the cafeteria, the student lounge or some outdoor areas. They'll be able to shoot off e-mail messages to friends, unhindered by cords, from the library, the computer commons and some meeting rooms.

All they need is a laptop computer and a wireless network card, which White said is available for about $100 and takes as few as 10 minutes to set up.

The wireless system operates on the frequency that cordless phones use. It has an antenna, which communicates with the antennae in wireless network cards.

Students at University of Arizona are not so well equipped.

The university's Arizona Health Sciences Library does have wireless access, as do some departments, said David Lane, the university's telecommunications engineer. The library obtained its access in 1999 for students and health professionals.

There are no immediate plans to extend the system to cover popular gathering areas, though, Lane said, save the Integrated Learning Center.

"As we speak, we're in the process of installing public access for the entire facility down there," he said, adding that it should be in place within two weeks.

Meanwhile, staff members at Pima Community College Northwest Campus are imagining the luxuries of widespread wireless access.

"This enables us to serve more students at one time," White said.

With the new system, the cafeteria could conceivably resemble an additional computer lab during off hours - laptops replacing food trays.

"We were thinking of removing the tethers from students when they move between classes and are outside of their classes," White said.

When throngs of students arrive on campus for class registration next semester, student-advisor teams could overflow to outdoor spaces, if necessary.

"We have so much of our registration information on the Web" White said. "Advisors could sit at benches and help students get registered."

Faculty will benefit from the wireless system too, White said.

"It allows them to stay in contact," he said. "When they're in meetings or roaming between buildings, they can still check their e-mail."

And those who don't want to buy cards still can go wireless. They can check out cards and use them for free within the walls of the campus library.

Since the public is invited to use the library and computer commons areas, wireless Internet access is open in those places to anyone with a laptop and an 802.11b wireless network card.

But Pima Community College Northwest Campus is not the only "hotspot" in northwest Tucson where people can enjoy cordless Internet access.

The Starbucks at Ina and Oracle roads is a hotspot, too, as is Borders Books & Cafe on Oracle Road near Wetmore Road.

Still, if all goes well, the campus could be a forerunner of sorts, inspiring its five other sister campuses to go wireless, White said.

"You can think of us as the pilot," he said.

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