PSU plugged in

On any given afternoon, the hallways of Smith Memorial Student Union host the overflow from the full desks and chairs of the study areas. Students with laptops park themselves through the halls wherever they can find electrical outlets.

For students with a computer, cell phone or PDA, having the outlet can be the difference between finishing an assignment – whether for class or a job – and an excuse.

Using WebCT, online readings and assignments for courses and trying to take care of office work at school all contribute to students’ need to plug in, whether that means finding internet access, charging a device or simply using a phone. As using computers for everyday tasks becomes more common, students look for new ways to connect.

Fortunately for students doing business while at school, there are cheaper solutions than renting an office.

There are computer labs in Cramer, Neuberger, Millar Library and the Broadway. There are pay phones and free on-campus phones in Smith. Still, having a laptop and wi-fi hotspot saves a lot of waiting in line at the library.

At PSU, wi-fi is ubiquitous. Since bringing it to PSU less than three years ago, the Office of Information Technologies has added an antenna to every building where students seem to want it, OIT director Mark Gregory said. Though OIT has no scientific measure of where students might use wi-fi, Gregory said, "we kind of judge it by where we see people cracking open laptops."

He called the wireless connection "one of the fastest growing services."

As it turns out, it’s in the university’s interest to make laptops an attractive choice for students. Providing wi-fi campus-wide is more efficient than increasing the number of available computer terminals. At 24,000 students strong, PSU’s student to computer ratio is staggering, so encouraging students to bring their own equipment takes pressure off the campus labs.

"At any one time, we can see 200-300 people using the network," Gregory said. "They’re probably using an owned computer, and that gives us that capacity in the labs."

Now it’s almost easier to list the facilities that aren’t hotspots.

Residence halls are a notable exception, where units are equipped with wired internet connections.

Cell phone use has its own set of hurdles. Once a student finds an appropriately private and quiet place to make a call, there’s another variable: reception.

Students who use cell phones in a business capacity walk a fine line between being an annoyance and being annoyed. They frequently find themselves unwelcome in quiet study areas, but areas where noise is more acceptable such as Parkway North may prove too distracting for even the most intrepid conference caller.

"There aren’t too many places to go and use a phone privately," Gregory said. "I wouldn’t be opposed to building phone space but I haven’t heard that request."