Communication tech center designed to meet students’ needs
The Communication Technology Center is often packed with students doing everything from video editing and page design to checking e-mail and Facebook pages. In fact, more than 1,300 students and staff at UH log in at least once a week at the CTC, located in the Jack J. Valenti School of Communication.
The lab is the primary computing facility of 1,760 communications students, according to Shawn McCombs, the manager of the computer lab.
Students and staff alike are drawn to the lab because of the designers’ dedication to putting the lab together the right way, McCombs said.
“It was really important for us to get it right,” he said.
McCombs was given the task of creating the CTC in 1996. He worked with a team of people within the school to develop a multi-phase project that would serve students and staff alike.
They spent 10 years developing the first phase of the project — the one that gave communications students the computer lab they utilize every day. First they had to worry about funding, McCombs said.
Because the school of communications is such a young school, McCombs said, they had to rely on the University for the funds to remodel the building for the lab.
It took years for the team to get the necessary funds for the remodeling project.
After the project was fully funded, the team turned its attention to building the best computer lab possible.
“Service is our number one goal,” McCombs said. “We aren’t in a position here to turn people away. We will do our best to provide the best service possible.”
To do that, McCombs and his team attended several conferences to learn how to deal with the modern student and how to keep the lab moving with the times.
The group also put together several focus groups of both students and staff to get opinions on how to tailor the lab to the needs of everyone within the communications school.
An effort was made to put the CTC together in a way that would be best for everyone, McCombs said.
“We take a lot of pride in knowing we really are the best computing lab on campus,” he said.
In the modern world, the lines between school, work and home are being shifted, he said. Because we are always connected via the Internet and our cell phones, those distinctions are becoming less of an issue, and it is good for students to have a place where they can blend comfortably.
The CTC staff wants people to feel at home in the computer lab, McCombs said.
Students are even allowed to have food and drink in the lab, something unheard of in most computer labs.
The lab has over a hundred computers with comfortable chairs designed to let students work for hours in the computer lab on different projects.
Many communications students have technical projects to do and the only place they have access to the software necessary is in the CTC.
The CTC also includes a Mac Bar in the middle of the lab, where students can quickly check their email or print off a paper.
The Mac Bar is a set of eight Macs set on a higher table than the rest of the computers with stools in front of each. The stools were deliberately designed to be uncomfortable, McCombs said, to encourage a high turnover rate, so more students can have access to the computers.
“It’s one of the only labs of its kind in the Southeast region,” McCombs said.
Another aspect of the lab that makes it special is how it continues to fund itself.
The CTC is an Apple Authorized Training Center, which means that staff members are authorized by Apple to charge for training in different software, such as FinalCut Pro, a video-editing program.
The CTC is able to charge for training both students and those in the community during semester breaks and then put those funds directly back into the lab. Everything it brings in goes back into making the computer lab a better place for students.
The lab’s status as a training center also fosters the university’s relationship with the community, McCombs said. It’s a win-win situation for everyone involved.
The current plan for the CTC includes expansion, McCombs said. With the training center project going so well, it is a matter of time.
“We expect to be doing a whole lot better in the years to come,” McCombs said.
The largest obstacle to any changes is always funding, McCombs said, and the training center arrangement does an excellent job of augmenting the fees that students pay as part of their tuition and any funds the lab receives from the University.