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St. Vincent's $1M technology upgrade part of school's 5-year plan

| Sunday, July 13, 2014, 10:30 p.m.
Steph Chambers | Tribune-Review
Brian Woller, construction coordinator for Comcast, installs cords for a cable TV conversion to Comcast on Friday, July 11, 2014 in a utility room at Saint Vincent College. The college is working on a $1 million project this summer to upgrade its technology infrastructure to provide wireless internet access on the entire campus, install antennas for better cellphone reception, double the internet bandwidth, provide new cable service and outsource campus email to Microsoft Office. The project is a part of the third year in the college’s five-year strategic plan.

A $1 million technology infrastructure upgrade across the campus of St. Vincent College in Unity is a welcome change for Cameron Robinson, a 22-year-old junior from Hershey.

The project will increase bandwidth speeds, Wi-Fi access, email storage space and cellphone reception on the 200-acre campus. But Robinson is most excited about cable TV improvements that will provide 111 digital channels, compared to the 64 previous, only four of which were digital.

He recalled gathering with fellow students to watch Pittsburgh Penguins hockey games or episodes of “The Walking Dead” and missing the puck or gory zombie-action on analog stations.

“We would all be gathered around the lobby TV to watch (‘Walking Dead') and you could barely make out anything, it was completely snowy,” he said. “We eventually had to grin and bear it. It was either you watched it with all the interference or it was immediately spoiled afterward on the Internet.”

Peter Mahoney, the college's chief information officer, said he knew the school had to provide such services as better cable to entice and retain students while providing others that are affordable and valuable.

“It's about ‘How can we enhance the social and educational experience of the students through technology?' ” Mahoney said of the project, that is a part of the third year in a five-year strategic plan.

There will be no increase in technology fees for students as a direct result of the project, he said.

Workers are installing more than 5 miles of cables, including 2.5 miles of coaxial cable for the Comcast digital cable capabilities.

Mahoney said some of the lines supporting Internet and computing services were at least 20 years old. The wireless network that included only 40 to 50 access points will now cover most of campus with more than 200, including 60 in the Robert S. Carey Student Center alone.

“Today's students and even the faculty expect to use their mobile devices. ... You have to have a very robust network,” Mahoney said.

To that end, even the wired network through Internet service provider Apogee will get a boost, doubling bandwidth speed in the residence halls and adding more network memory and wireless device connections.

Robinson, a computer science major who is a student technician at the information service desk, said prior to the upgrade, he would look forward to visits home not only to see his family, but to enjoy the faster Internet.

He said at high-volume times, such as the first night class registration was open, the network would crash and his friends would resort to using the data plans on their mobile devices.

“Since everybody would be on the Internet, the whole site would go down,” he said.

Robinson volunteered on a student committee that helped survey students and compare services provided to similarly sized nearby colleges — St. Francis University and University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg.

Justin Fabin, director of technical services, said the upgrades will come in handy when the Pittsburgh Steelers begin training camp at the college on July 24, as well as for students, faculty and staff.

“Our goal is to be able to provide a seamless experience for all those users with whatever device they have,” he said.

After surveying students, Mahoney found that 90 percent use either AT&T or Verizon cellphone services, both of which will be upgraded as a part of this project.

“It didn't matter what vendor it was, (coverage) just was very poor,” Mahoney said.

Verizon placed four antennas around the campus perimeter to provide better coverage, while AT&T is installing four antennas on the roof of the Latimer Family Library, he said.

The coverage upgrades also will benefit nearby areas on routes 30 and 981, Mahoney said.

Students this fall also might notice a boost in the storage allowed in their email.

The college opted for Microsoft 365, which will allow twice as much storage space from 25 to 50 gigabytes and the use of Microsoft Office programs on as many as five devices for free, instead of the previous $9.95 charged.

Officials at St. Vincent say they are hoping for a “seamless” transition to the new services, with minimal interruption to the Wi-Fi in some parts of campus the only inconvenience, Mahoney said.

Otherwise, all the upgrades should be completed by the first quarter of next year, with Verizon's cell phone upgrade already finished, cable and Internet upgrades by the end of July, and everyone switched to the new email client by mid-August.

The AT&T antennas will be installed last, but the company has parked a truck near the tennis courts to improve signals in the meantime, Mahoney said.

A certain group off campus also will benefit from the upgrades, especially the cell phone coverage, he said.

“The parents are much happier they can reach their students,” Mahoney said.

Stacey Federoff is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-6660 or sfederoff@tribweb.com.

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