Students returning to campus this week should notice that their laptops, iPads, Androids and other wireless gadgets are running more quickly and smoothly—an issue that students made a top priority for the college.
Over winter break, Bowdoin’s IT department responded to student wishes by upgrading the college’s wireless system, replacing every access point with the latest technology from Cisco. The new access points, which look like white plastic boxes with small blue, red or green LED lights, connect Bowdoin’s network with wireless devices. They’ve been placed in 95 buildings and at more than 400 locations across campus, a number that will be expanded as the wireless needs of the campus grow and change.
The initiative to update the system came after students experienced increasing difficulty with the wireless signal. “Students complained that the network was slowing down in dorms and places of a lot of activity,” Bowdoin CIO Mitch Davis says. “What we wanted to avoid was having any downtime when too many people were working on devices.”
The college’s decision to invest in a state-of-the art wireless system was spurred on in particular by a small group of students who advise the IT department on student issues. Last year, this advisory committee sent out a survey asking students for their input on what would improve campus life. Wireless connectivity came back as one of the biggest issues, according to Chris Kan ’13, who’s been on the IT student committee since his first year at Bowdoin.
“The wireless was always slow but it was getting a lot worse,” Kan said, as more devices taxed the system. “Everyone now has a cellphone and a laptop.”
Bowdoin College Network Manager Jason Lavoie says when the old wireless system was built seven years or so ago, no one foresaw the quick rise of wireless gadgets. “We didn’t anticipate so many simultaneous users and streaming videos back then,” he said.
These days, the collage sees a peak of 2,200 simultaneous users, whereas a year ago it was 1,400. Plus, Lavoie says bandwidth utilization has increased by a factor of 2 or 3 in that time period, meaning that each user is also using the network more heavily.
So while there was a growing need for change, it took students to jump start the project, Lavoie says. “The awareness brought up by the student body really helped sell the project. Just me saying there’s going to be problems wasn’t enough. Students saying, ‘This is something we really need,’ was,” he said.
Kan says the IT student advisory committee, which includes him and Matt Glatt ’14 at the moment, serves as a bridge between the IT department and students. “We know about IT but it’s sometimes hard for IT to know what students want,” he said. So far, he says Bowdoin has been responsive to his and his peers’ recommendations. “Bowdoin is a small college, and it’s easy to get changes done here. And IT is really good at receiving input.”