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Syracuse neighborhood celebrates new wireless hotspots with Digital Access Day
In 2005, a group of residents from Syracuse’s South Side neighborhood told Syracuse University Chancellor and President Nancy Cantor that they wanted to collaborate with the University on a project to improve technology access in their community. Little more than a year later, the Southside Community Coalition, along with the University, sponsored Digital Access Day, a community celebration of the first strides towards a wired — and wireless — neighborhood.
Digital Access Day was held on Tuesday, Nov. 28, at the Beauchamp Branch Library, 2111 S. Salina St. The event included brief presentations from community leaders, a technology demonstration and a chance for residents to try out the Internet hotspots using 10 laptops donated to the library by the State University of New York at Morrisville. Another Digital Access Day will be planned for the spring, and community organizers hope to see it become an annual event.
Under the guidance of Murali Venkatesh, a professor at SU’s School of Information Studies, the South Side has seen the installation of a local area network (LAN) at the Beauchamp Branch Library and the creation of two community wireless hotspots — one inside the library and one nearby at the corner of Colvin and Salina streets. The LAN allows residents access to a high-speed Internet connection through the library’s access to the Syracuse METRONET, and the hotspots provide free wireless Internet access to residents’ personal laptops, as well as the 10 donated laptops.
Network hardware was donated by Information Technology and Services (ITS), the University’s provider of technology resources, services and network infrastructure; and the Center for Emerging Network Technologies (CENT), a research center based in the School of Information Studies. The networks were installed over the past two semesters by students from Venkatesh’s classes. Many of his students were on hand at Digital Access Day to provide training and guidance to new Internet users.
For students like Matt Trager, a senior in the School of Information Studies who is taking Professional Issues in Information Management and Technology with Venkatesh this semester, the chance to work on a real-world networking project has been an opportunity to both gain professional experience and make a difference. “My team is very interested in networking,” Trager says. “And I think the South Side has many promising opportunities in terms of technology.”
Venkatesh heads the Technology Center project, the joint effort between the South Side residents and SU that sponsors the new network connections. He hopes the group will assist in bringing more technological developments to the neighborhood soon. He wants to add a number of wireless access points to the stretch of Salina St. that runs between the Beauchamp Library and the South Side Innovation Center, an entrepreneurial facility located at the former Dunk and Bright furniture showroom. These wireless zones will form the Salina Electronic Village, which Venkatesh plans to see completed over the next year and a half.
Together with the community coalition, Venkatesh is also working on long-term plans for a stand-alone technology center that will provide high-speed Internet access at public terminals, as well as skills training and networking certification classes. Students from his classes are preparing business models for a cooperative Internet service provider (ISP) that will supply high-quality Internet service to local business and nonprofit organizations.
These collaborative efforts are part of the South Side Initiative, a partnership between the Southside Community Coalition and SU’s Faculty for Community Engagement, a group of professors who have committed to research projects that will benefit the City of Syracuse. The initiative is part of the University’s commitment to “Scholarship in Action,” a call for interdisciplinary scholarship by faculty and students that makes significant contributions to society.
Linda Littlejohn, associate vice president of engagement initiatives at SU, says Venkatesh’s efforts are exactly the type of projects the initiative hopes to encourage. “He is extraordinarily committed to making this work and committed to this being not just a service project, but a partnership within the community devoted to helping revitalize its neighborhoods,” she says. “Our faculty members have such a wealth of knowledge. They can create partnerships that will help residents improve the community, both economically and culturally, in ways that can be sustained.”