November 15, 2005

Software donation benefits SIUC students, faculty

by K.C. Jaehnig

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Come spring semester, civil engineering students at Southern Illinois University Carbondale will begin training on the same sophisticated software used by professionals across the country working for public water and sewage companies.

MWH Soft, a Broomfield, Colo., company that supplies software to cities and municipalities, utility companies and engineering organizations around the world, awarded the $80,000 package to SIUC's John W. Nicklow through its Excellence in Engineering Education program. The program recognizes outstanding teachers and researchers who have established high-quality design and management programs in water resources. So far, it has given more than $1.7 million in software to professors at 34 universities in 14 countries.

"We do have a strong teaching component in our department, and I think that's what the company saw," Nicklow said.

"A number of us have been to teaching workshops and have won national and college-wide awards for our teaching, and I think they recognized those strengths."

The gift consists of 20 licenses in each of two applications, both with geographic information system capability. One focuses on water distribution design, modeling and management. The other covers sanitary and storm sewer design, analysis, modeling and management.

Students enrolled in courses in civil engineering design, collection systems design and hydrological systems modeling will find the software particularly helpful.

"In these courses, there was no standard software," Nicklow said.

"With our budget constraints, it's been real tough to maintain some of the software we need, so basically, it's been ‘Use whatever's free.' Unfortunately, that might not always have been the best, content-wise, but it was free."

Because so many professionals use this software daily, the ability to train students with it will put SIUC "out in front," Nicklow said.

"This software is so advanced and so expensive that if departments had to buy it on their own, they couldn't do it — they couldn't afford it."

Nicklow expects the software to see many years of use.

"It's not like word-processing software (where frequent updates make programs obsolete in a short time)," he said.

The software arrived in October and has been installed on the 15 computers in the department's computer laboratory. Faculty teaching the courses received the remaining sets and will incorporate software-based activities in their spring term classes.

"It's going to take some time for us to learn it before we teach it," Nicklow said with a laugh.

Cultivating resources is among the goals of Southern at 150: Building Excellence Through Commitment, the blueprint the University is following as it approaches its 150th anniversary in 2019.