President Whitlock and other administrators help kick off the opening to the computer lab in the basement of the Powell Building. The lab features a wireless lounge and comfortable furniture. (Ben Kleppinger)

By Laura Butler

Ever wonder what that $50 technology fee you pay each semester actually goes toward? It gets you a printing account at the library and SSB and replaces mice and keyboards around campus. But for the past four years, a portion of the fees have been set aside for a bigger, long-term investment.A new computer complex, Tech Commons, was unveiled to the student body on Jan. 18 at the grand opening/open house. The new facility, which is located on the first level of Powell Student Center behind the Fountain Food Court, moved into the space from the old bowling alley.

Tech Commons now provides students with access to a general computer lab, a group meeting room, a wireless lounge with laptop accessibility and large monitors at group workstations. It also includes comfortable, flexible furniture and an equipment checkout center for laptops and other multimedia equipment. This $1 million addition came as a result of student funding, said David Fifer, SGA president.

“The entire facility was funded through the Student Technology Fees,” he said. “We discovered the potential to tax and raise our own money within the university and the committee made smart use of the money allotted for the project without an increase in the fees charged to students. I’d love to see this happen with other projects.”

The idea to build the Tech Commons began in the spring of 2004 while Joanne Glasser was serving as university president. Glasser appointed an ad hoc facilities committee to evaluate proposals for potential uses for the empty space. After deliberation, the committee accepted Information Technology’s proposal to create a new student-centered technology space.

The committee and Glasser then gathered feedback and ideas from students and faculty via SGA, online surveys, student leadership meetings, worker meetings and campus-wide open forums.

“We asked students, ‘What is it that you need? What do you want that you don’t have?’ and then we did our best to accommodate the expressed desires,” said Mona Isaacs, associate vice president for information technology. “We wanted to give students a place where they could feel comfortable, have access to the latest technology, work with some elbow room and really make the space their own.”

Eastern President Doug Whitlock said the commons illustrated how students can make a difference on campus.

“We want student input to make our students successful in their academic endeavors,” Whitlock said. “The Tech Commons is the latest in a series of technological jewels on our campus.”

Sophomore computer science major Josh Fry and freshman Jeffrey Faulkner discovered the lab a few weeks before the fall semester ended.

“We found the lab by accident back in December, but we come here all the time now. It’s roomy and a lot less crowded,” Faulkner said.

Fry agreed saying, “This is a lot better than the SSB space-wise, and the Internet is quicker than in the dorm. It’s really convenient to go over to the food court and eat, and then pop right over to grab a computer and hang out.”

In addition to more computers and larger workstations, the facility added couches and chairs, several 22-inch plasma computer monitors at group workstations and a large overhead screen and projector that can be used for gaming and movies. The center also welcomes food and drinks in containers.

“This is their [student’s] facility. We want them to feel comfortable using it. It’s a workable, functional space to open a book and work together,” said Charles Woolum, supervisor of Tech Commons.

Students can also reserve club and group meetings in the conference room, a space complete

with state-of-the-art video conferencing equipment that allows communication across campus and worldwide.

A new style of classroom is also located in the Tech Commons.

The classroom is equipped with computer tablets for individual use or group work, and an overhead projector to display work from the tablets to the entire class.

In the basement is a new store that offers printing and binding services, the Paper Jam.

Students can visit the Paper Jam for copying, printing, laminating and mounting needs.

“It’s like a mini Kinko’s on campus,” Woolum said.

Eastern students receive a 20-percent discount on any class-related projects.

The facility will be open Monday through Thursday, 8 a.m. to 11 p.m., and Friday, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.