August 11, 2006

Experts ready to help students plug into network

by Tim Crosby

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Moving almost 4,000 students into residence halls during one weekend at Southern Illinois University Carbondale always is a logistical challenge. Members of the University's Information Technology staff, however, hope to make one aspect of this hectic annual event run more smoothly by assembling an expanded cadre of volunteers and student workers who will help students plug into SIUC's residence hall network quickly.

Michael Shelton, network engineer with Information Technology at SIUC, said he is training 75 people to assist students in acquiring access to the residence hall network, known as RezNet. The number of helpers includes 20 student workers hired specifically for the effort and 55 volunteers, mostly local area network administrators from various departments and units around campus.

Last year, nine people assisted students in the endeavor, Shelton said. Officials decided to increase that number in an effort to make the move-in process less stressful for students. Shelton said the Saluki volunteer spirit showed when the call for volunteers went out in June.

"We have a lot of people on campus who are really good natured and have that kind, Saluki spirit," Shelton said. "This is a customer service initiative. We are trying to better serve the students, because they are our bread and butter. Without them, we have nothing."

When Shelton came to SIUC in 1993, his job consisted entirely of taking care of a computer network used almost exclusively by faculty and staff. Since the University installed RezNet in 1998, however, Shelton has spent an increasing amount of his time servicing it.

To get access to RezNet, a computer must have five things:

• Microsoft Firewall

• Automatic updates turned on

• One of three anti-virus programs installed

• Critical Microsoft patches

• A program called Clean Access, which mainly monitors the computer to make sure the other precautions and settings are in place.

Often, students have no problems hooking into RezNet when they arrive. If they have the programs and settings required as well as their University-issued personal identification number, a series of screens can prompt them through the process of signing on.

Move-in days have become a particular challenge in recent years, however, Shelton said. Students often don't bring the paperwork sent to them during the summer that contained important security pass codes and information. Also, the computers students bring with them often lack the proper security software, configurations and patches, or are full of viruses and "spyware" programs that could pollute the network.

The delays caused by such issues lead to aggravation on the part of students and their parents, Shelton said. The vastly increased number of assistants this year will help alleviate that situation.

"We'll be ready and I think we'll do very well," Shelton said.

Another big help, Shelton said, comes in the form of workers from SIUC Records & Registration, who this year will be on hand during the weekend to look up PINs for students who have forgotten them.

"It's the kind of support that will make this project succeed," Shelton said.

The student workers and volunteers will train at the Wham Education Building next week, learning points of professionalism, ethics and technical issues. They will learn the various security systems that must be in place before a computer can join the network and receive their assignments.

On move-in weekend, slated for Aug. 18-20, the University will assign help supervisors to Thompson Point and east campus residence halls. Workers at those two operations points will check in with residence hall leaders for a list of students needing help signing onto RezNet and will go door-to-door assisting them.

Shelton said the workers also will have a sign-up table in the lobby at Brush Towers, which students can use while they wait their turn to use the elevators to move into their rooms. Shelton said this should save time by allowing workers to begin processing information before students actually plug in their machines.

During the following two weeks, Information Technology will maintain a help desk from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, in the basement at Trueblood Hall. Students can walk in to get help setting up their access, Shelton said.

"A lot of folks come here with a brand new computer and it's easy and takes 20 minutes to set up," Shelton said. "Sometimes, though, they've had the machine three or four years and there are all kinds of issues. Last year, we had one that took our people 11 hours to clean out and set up.

"Basically, we're telling our folks if the computer can be hooked up in 40 or 45 minutes, go ahead and do it that weekend on the spot," Shelton said. In cases that will take longer than that, the student will need to go to the help desk at Trueblood.

Information Technology for the first time also will offer multi-port hubs for sale, which students can use to hook up several computers or video game systems to the network, Shelton said. The students can purchase the items online when they sign onto the network, with the cost added to the student's bursar account.

Shelton said he recognizes students and parents alike rely on computers for much more than writing papers or surfing the Internet. They use them for communication, such as e-mail and instant messaging, which cuts down on long distance bills.

"We're going to be able to help a lot of students," Shelton said.

Monitoring and assessing student satisfaction in housing and responding to needs in an expeditious manner are among the goals ofSouthern at 150: Building Excellence Through Commitment, the blueprint the University is following as it approaches its 150th anniversary in 2019.