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HBCUs getting up to speed on the information highway – historically Black colleges and universities – Cover Story

When Emma Bradford Perry arrived at Southern University and A&M
College at Baton Rouge from Harvard four years ago to head up that
school’s library, the first thing she did close the card catalog.

“When I got here, we were still using the card catalog,” said
Perry, Southern’s dean of libraries and the former assistant director
of the Harvard Business School Library. “The library needed to move
into the twenty-first century and become more technologically

Now, Southern is moving along the information highway, having
completely revamped its library in order to keep up with rapid changes
in educational technology and to keep its students competitive. With
the myriad worldwide changes in technology, historically Black colleges
and universities (HBCUs) are hurrying to keep up with the flow of

“We have to stay up with everybody else” said David Bogar, dean of
North Carolina A&T State University’s School of Education. “There
is no lagging behind in this game. We have moved beyond the days of
just having a computer lab. Just because you have a computer lab
doesn’t mean anything anymore.”

Kenneth Chambers, director of information technology at North Carolina Central University in Durham, agrees.

“Technology completely changes every three years,” said Chambers. “By the third year, if it isn’t worn out, it is obsolete.”

Back in 1988 while on the English Department’s faculty, Chambers
set up that department’s first computer lab. In that modest
environment, he taught English students how to write term papers on
computers using a DOS-based Word Perfect program. Now, he is
instructing students all over the campus on how to use spreadsheets and
Windows, and how to access information off the web and create their own
web pages.

Chambers just put in seven new labs on NCCU’s campus and upgraded
five others. Now there are twenty-seven computer labs and approximately
370 computers on campus for students use.

“The thing that is surprising to me is how fast computers have
changed our lives,” Chambers said. “I had no way of knowing it would
move this fast. But I do know that it is extremely important that we
keep up.”

But keeping up means money. And for all that NCCU has, Chambers
laments that he doesn’t have enough. Ideally, he would like to have one
computer available for every four students. With 5,400 students, he now
has about one computer for every 15 students.

“We just need more money to keep going,” said Chambers. “Technology
is similar to lights and gas, utilities that you have to have. If you
don’t have technology, you are out of business.”

But Bogar said that schools like N.C. A&T and NCCU, because
they are state-supported, have an easier time getting technological
projects funded than private schools. N.C. A&T, which also has the
largest School of Technology in North Carolina, has been at the
forefront of technological advances. The institution’s College of
Engineering has forged a close alliance with the National Air and Space
Administration (NASA), and the university is in the process of building
a new state-of-the-art technology building.

“I came here in the fall of 1994 and at that time, we had a small
computer lab that was not being used,” said Bogar. “During my first
year, we put together a proposal for a $100.000 computer lab. We then
followed that up with a $77,000 MacIntosh lab.”

N.C. A&T has also found success in developing Internet web
pages. Colleges and universities are finding out now that in the
information age, the Internet is perhaps the best way to market their
institutions. Schools that don’t have a presence on the Internet are
feeling the pressure.

About 80 percent of all HBCU s have their own web page. For those
who do not, the Federal Information Exchange maintains a page for each
school containing basic information.

Sonja Willingham, who graduated from N.C. A&T this month, is
one of hundreds of students at the school who have built their own web
pages, which are maintained by the university. She said that all
students in the Management Information Systems classes are required to
at least post their resumes online. She took it a step further by
creating a fully-functional page with moving objects, photos and links
to other sites.

“I have had a few people call me about my resume after seeing it
online,” said Willingham. “Having it up has been very beneficial to me
— both personally and professionally.”

Several people said that it is no surprise that Willingham has found success via the Internet.

“With the job market being the way it is, I don’t see recruiters
coming to our students who don’t know this,” said Dawn Kight, director
of Southern’s systems and technology office. “For any of us to be able
to compete, we have to have this.”

To emphasis the importance of computers and technology, Bogar said
that by 1998, every new teacher in North Carolina will have to pass a
state test on technology, in addition to the regular testing.

At Southern, to help address the importance of technology, Perry
created the systems and technology office in the John B. Cade Library
to oversee all technology that is implemented in the library.

“It has made the library better,” Perry said. “Students are now
able to access information through the web and the Internet. We are
moving ahead because technology is so important.”

Kight said that more than 10,000 people have access to the office, where they are trained on the Internet.

“It is extremely important right now. The use of technology has
taken higher education to a completely different level,” said Kight.
“The ability to access information from your home or dorm room has made
doing homework easier and efficient.”

Kight has been at Southern for six years and is a first hand
witness to the changes through which the university and the library has

“Six years ago, we just had the computer card catalog,” said Kight.
“Now we have catalogs from all over the country, databases from all
over the country.”

With the twenty-first century only three years away, Perry said
that it is imperative that HBCUs get up to speed on the information

“It is terribly crucial,” said Perry. “Even though our students go
to HBCUs, when they graduate they are competing with everyone. They
have to be prepared. They have to be ready.”

COPYRIGHT 1997 Cox, Matthews & Associates

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