1996: SMU’s Virtual Evolution

After 15 years, campus is light-years from dial-up service

SMU Internet
Ruben Chambers and Bruce Meikle stand among rows of wall-to-wall server towers that comprise SMU’s networking “nerve center” in a super air-conditioned room in Patterson Hall. (Staff Photo: Joanna England)

By Bradford Pearson | Staff Writer

When Ruben Chambers arrived as a student at SMU in 1992, he wasn’t sure what to make of the Internet. Passing fad? A replacement for the fax machine?

By 1994, when he began working for the school’s technology office, he realized just how important the invention could become. And by 1996, when the school installed Ethernet connections in every dorm room, he knew things were changing permanently.

“As a student, I don’t think we appreciated it at the time,” said Chambers, now a senior network technician on campus. “Where I originally thought it was going to be a minor add-on, I think we all realized, after a year or two, it was not.”

In 1996, only about 10 percent of students showed up on campus with a computer, and most of them were engineering students, Chambers said. Now, less than 5 percent come to campus without one.

SMU 1996In an Aug. 22, 1996 story in Park Cities People, a reporter caught up with one of SMU’s resident computer assistants, a new position created to help students access the campus network, set up email accounts, and “surf the World Wide Web.” Tom Downing, SMU’s associate director of information technology at the time, touted the Internet as a way to bolster a students’ research, allowing them to “talk to real live Buddhists by accessing a Buddhist home page via the Internet.”

Students now arrive on campus with an average of three or four wireless devices, said Jesse Miller, director of telecommunications. Not only have the number of devices changed, but so has the complexity. Last year, the iPad was the new toy, the year before that, wireless printers. The school now touts 100 percent wireless coverage in its buildings, and 3,000 unique users log-on to the system every day. Wireless usage has tripled in just the past year, Miller said.

“Six years ago we put wireless in the dorms, and that was so SMU could sell it to students that we had it; it was a selling point,” he said. “We still have wired connections, but when we do surveys each year, wireless is what they use the most.”

Whereas in 1996 the college campus was the mecca for technology, homes have now caught up, said Brad Floyd, head of networking.

Students expect to be able to access wireless instantly for their computers, their phones, their XBox, and their iPads. In 1996, students were calling IT to hook up their 20-pound desktop computers to the Internet. Now IT receives calls when the network is too slow, putting a kink in students’ World of Warcraft sessions.

“When we first installed the network, students would go to the library, instead of online, to look at the card catalog,” said network engineer Bruce Meikle, a 20-year vet of the department. “Now you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who knows what a card catalog is.”

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1996

ALSO IN THE NEWS …
After leaving a September rehearsal of the HPHS production of Guys and Dolls, senior Joanna Ortynska found a dead emu in her car. There were no leads in the case, police said.

Throughout the fall, neighbors successfully lobbied against new elementary schools throughout the district. Neighborhood groups along both Westminster and Rosedale fought the plans.

On Jan. 8, former City Councilman and noted developer Fred Peek died at 88. His name is carried on at University Park’s Peek Services Center.

The Highland Park lacrosse team completed its first season with 21 students participating. The club now boasts more than 600 participants in all grade levels. In a headline for Park Cities People’s original story, we misspelled “lacrosse.”

CHANGES AT THE TOP
In May, Gifford Touchstone ran unopposed for Highland Park mayor, taking over for Wade Smith.

In June, HP football coach Don Richardson was fired to make way for new coach Scott Smith, a former letterman for the Scots in the 70s.

HIGHLAND PARK HIGH SCHOOL
Valedictorian: Zach Phillips
Salutatorian: Elise Adams
Blanket Award winners: Maryjane Boone and Chandler Phillips

IDLEWILD DEBUTANTES
Michelle Nicole McIlroy, Margaret Golden King, Catherine McDowell Clark, Mary Kate Smither, Laura Michelle Higginbotham, Katherine Camilla

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