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University of Central Oklahoma

UCO Students Partner with IT on Campus Network Upgrade

With the speed of change in the digital learning age, higher education institutions are challenged to continually innovate to meet the needs of students and educators. Deploying new technologies is an even greater challenge as budgets tighten and IT departments must be more creative in allocating the funding available.

Students at UCO working around a laptop

UCO students voted to tax themselves to fund the university’s network upgrade.

The IT team at the University of Central Oklahoma found an ally in its student body when the university identified the need to fund a campus-wide network upgrade. The university identified the need for a network infrastructure upgrade in its five-year plan published in 2011. Although this upgrade was necessary, the IT team also knew budgets were tight, and it would have to find another a way to fund this endeavor.

“We are open and transparent about challenges, costs and how we are spending the students’ money,” said Cynthia E. Rolfe, Ed.D., Ph.D., vice president for information technology and chief information officer. “We wanted to work closely with the student groups at the university to find a creative solution to fund this project.”

Rolfe visited with multiple groups of students, including two sets of student government leaders over a three-year period. They devised a plan that combined a student technology infrastructure fee of $3 per credit hour and the university IT budget and housing department dollars. These three funding sources would be leveraged to pay a bond over a five-to-six year period. In the future, the fee will be used to keep the network up-to-date.

The proposition was presented to the student body for a vote. The students understood the need for the network upgrade and chose to partner with the IT department by voting in favor of taxing themselves to assist with the necessary funding.

After finding the most economical solution, the IT team started work on upgrading the network. Once the design was in place and a vendor partner selected, the installation and implementation began.

A fiber upgrade throughout the campus added redundant loops connecting each building and improving both reliability and performance. The IT team deployed all new core networking equipment and controllers and installed new wireless controllers and access points throughout the campus. The upgrade also included new VoIP telephone and unified communication and connected remote locations to the main campus.

The installation and implementation was completed in less than two years. Students and faculty alike have seen great improvements to network availability since the upgrade.

UCO students working together

Students are happy with the performance of the new network.

“The network is now flawless,” said Austin Sheehy, student government president. “We are all so happy with the speed and reliability of the new network.”

The upgraded network means students have new options for digital learning. Students are better able to utilize E-Textbooks in class, which was a challenge in the past due to connectivity issues. Now that the university has received the Wi-Fi upgrade, students are able to pair several devices, whereas before they could only pair one. This connectivity is vital for students, because most of them rely on a smartphone, tablet and laptop that all require Wi-Fi to access the school’s Internet.

Although the project is now complete, the IT team and student government still work closely to monitor the new network for continued success.

“Student government leaders continue to be supportive by communicating with students about the progress of the project,” Dr. Rolfe said. “It has been an amazingly positive experience for us to work with our student leaders.”

Photos courtesy of UCO Photographic Services