- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 18, 2001

At 2 a.m., when most people are asleep, Howard University student Jabari Young is wide-awake, burning the midnight oil at one of the most popular spots inNorthwest — a lively venue that attracts crowds of collegians each night.
You might think this is the trendy U Street corridor, where clubs abound, but you would be wrong. Instead, Mr. Young, 24, spends many of his early morning hours inside Howard Universitys state-of-the-art Information Lab, or iLab, on Bryant Street NW.
There, the political science major, who hails from Lafayette, La., can review Supreme Court decisions on the Internet, check his e-mail, pound out tomes and, on occasion, enjoy a DVD movie on a sleek, high-resolution screen.
"My classes are on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, so Im usually in the iLab on those days. Sometimes, Im there until 1 a.m. or 2 a.m., working on research papers in economics, literature or political science. Right now, Im working on legal statutes," the aspiring law student says.
"Its always packed. Not only are there computers, but it has study and lounge areas and vending machines. There are televisions so that students can use their earphones to catch the local news while theyre working on the computers," Mr. Young says.
He even can call home for free with the technology the iLab affords him, he says.
Since the $4.5 million iLab opened its doors nearly a year ago, Howards computer lab has continued to attract upwards of 4,500 visitors each week, says Chuck Moore, the iLabs director of user support services. Its debut was no less spectacular, he recalls.
"When the iLab opened Friday, April 28, at 12:01 a.m., 75 to 80 students were lined up outside the door waiting to get in. When folks came in, they didnt want to leave, and its still that way today," Mr. Moore says, smiling.
"We have created an environment for students which gives them a variety of technologies and resources," he says.

No wonder the 24-7 computer lab has become a hit with students. The iLab is equipped with 200 computers, and students get to pick from a wide variety that includes PCs; iMacs; Mac G4s with large, high-resolution screens; and Unix-based machines, which are used primarily by students in the sciences and engineering schools, Mr. Moore says.
The design of the 22,000-square-foot, carpeted facility also allows students to view televisions, suspended from the ceiling, from wherever they decide to hunker down with their books. Plus, theres a wireless sound system at each of the roomy workstations that enables the user to put on a headset, tune the selector to his favorite TV station or radio channel, and enjoy specific selections, whether its hip-hop, jazz or classical.
A number of printers and plotters large-format printers for creating maps or architectural blueprints are available to help students meet term-paper deadlines.
"Weve tried to make the place very attractive and as comfortable as possible. And weve noticed that the students take care of the area for us. They put chairs back in place and chastise one another for being messy," Mr. Moore says.
"Its like theyre in their grandmothers living room. Theres no doubt students appreciate what the university has done," he says.
Mr. Young agrees. The soon-to-be graduate and president of the Charles H. Houston Pre-Law Society credits the vision of President H. Patrick Swygert, a Howard alumnus who included the high-technology lab in his Strategic Framework for Action I plan upon his arrival at the university in 1995. The presidents plan was approved by the board of trustees in 1996.
The strategic plan set out to do four things at the 10,000-student university: strengthen academic programs and services, promote excellence in teaching and research, increase private support, and enhance national and community services.
"He has moved Howard University to another caliber. President Swygert tries to meet regularly with students to get our input. And I think the iLab is a result of those discussions," Mr. Young says.

But some computers in the iLab go well beyond your garden-variety word processing. Within its confines are three tech labs set up as "smart classrooms," which use digital technology to enhance traditional teaching methods each with highly specialized capabilities, Mr. Moore says. These rooms are used to present brief instructional sequences to students and staff.
"One of the tech labs contains 13 Dell 1300 workstations that are equipped with Mathcad and Autocad. The Mathcad software is the most advanced calculation application for engineers and mathematicians. The Autocad software is design software for engineers and architects. So students are working with the latest software available," he says.
Another of the labs contains a PictureTel video conferencing system that enables the user to communicate both visually and audibly with others in distant locations. A camera follows the instructor and keeps the presenter in the frame at all times. The power of this technology is its ability to enable groups in different locations to exchange ideas and visual materials while observing their learning partners in real time, Mr. Moore says. This room has 12 workstations and an instructor station each of the PCs comes equipped with small video cameras attached to the monitors.
"If students want to set up a video conference using an inexpensive camera at home, we can show them how by taking them into the tech lab with video conferencing capability," Mr. Moore, a mathematician, says.
A third tech lab contains 13 Mac G4 computers equipped with graphics software for students in electronic media or the arts or for any student who has a need to access that kind of graphics technology.
The iLab has morphed into much more than a computer lab. Its a place where students congregate for many reasons.
The iLab gives students a choice of two meeting rooms where they can plan group presentations or get together for an intense study session. One of the workrooms is set up to replicate an office, with cabinets, fax machines, phones, a conference table and comfy chairs, erasable boards and lots of ports for laptop computers.
Students flock to the iLab to phone home, too, Mr. Moore says.
"A lot of students come here during the evening hours to use some of the applications on the Internet that are available to make long-distance calls to parents and friends over the computer at no cost," Mr. Moore says.
Francisco Honorio, 20, says the iLab helped him navigate through his first year at the university without any glitches, especially when it was time to write intellectual criticisms. A computer enthusiast, Mr. Honorio spends time before and after his classes at the iLab, where he surfs the Net and completes his assignments. The resources make college assignments much easier.
Thats what Mr. Moore likes to hear.
The objective of the computer lab was to centralize technologies under one roof.
"We want our students to see the technology in use so they will be accustomed to and proficient in its uses," he says.
"When they enter the marketplace, they will come with highly competitive skills. Were preparing them for success," Mr. Moore says.


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