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CCCCD Opens Texas' First Academic 'Convergence Lab'



CCCCD Opens Texas' First Academic 'Convergence Lab'

November 12, 2002—Collin County Community College District officially opened the doors to its new “Convergence Lab” in a special ceremony for higher education officials, business representatives and community leaders. The lab is the first of its kind at a Texas college or university.

"Convergence" refers to the integration of voice, data and video technologies in one environment. The lab also converges equipment from multiple manufacturers, so students can learn “interoperability” by solving real-world business and engineering case studies using the multiple technologies and equipment from multiple vendors in the lab. This experience will help to better prepare students for the workforce. The lab is located at CCCCD's Preston Ridge Campus in Frisco, where it will be available to engineering and technology students as well as to North Texas businesses.

"This is a big step forward for technology education in Texas," said Cary A. Israel, president of the college. "Students will now have hands-on experience with equipment such as DSLAMs, ATM switches and SONET switches. The closest most students have been to this technology before was a diagram in a textbook."

The lab simulates numerous worldwide office settings and features four "virtual offices" with equipment such as wired and wireless LANs, WANs, videoconferencing, voice-over IP, PBX, ISDN, Interactive Voice Recognition (IVR), voicemail, unified messaging, security and general computer networking.

"While there are still some tremendous challenges facing North Texas as it relates to technology, all indications are that the skill sets in the future require the type of training that will be found in the Convergence Lab. We think it is very important to retain skilled workers in Collin County for the next wave of technology business," said Sam Roach, chairman of the CCCCD Board of Trustees.

According to Ann Beheler, CCCCD's dean of engineering technology, the lab has a dual purpose of helping small and mid-sized businesses in the area.

"Large multi-national corporations operate their own multi-million dollar convergence labs to test products before they go to market. However, small and mid-sized businesses do not have these resources," she said. Now, technology companies in North Texas can test their hardware or software products in CCCCD's Convergence Lab at a nominal cost and can utilize trained CCCCD students to assist with their testing.

Ernest Jackson, the new director of the Convergence Lab, organized a number of demonstrations for guests at the grand opening. The lab contains nearly half a million dollars of equipment funded in part by a grant from the Telecommunications Infrastructure Fund (TIF) Board in Austin along with funds from CCCCD. Nortel Networks and SBC Communications (through the SBC Execelerator grant program) also contributed to the project.

"Nortel Networks is pleased to have been part of the development of this new lab. As a global company, we know that it is important for today's students to become skilled in several technology platforms, and we are happy to provide them with the equipment to help them learn and become highly-valued technology professionals," said Beth Kolman, manager of community relations for the Richardson Nortel Networks site.

Additional funding and resources will come through a grant from the National Science Foundation to a group of area colleges known as the North Texas Regional Technology Consortium (NTRTC). Grant funds will add needed equipment and create remote access to the lab for students at NTRTC partners. The consortium includes Richland College of the Dallas County Community College District, Grayson County College, North Central Texas College, the University of North Texas and business partner Texas Instruments as well as CCCCD.

College officials worked with an industry-based advisory board of more than 10 area companies for nearly two years to develop the technical plans and build the laboratory. College faculty and staff involved include professors Bob Wright (telecommunications), Pete Brierley (telecommunications and Cisco), Tom Jones, (data networks), Dr. Bob Meeks (solid state devices, power and grounding), Beheler and Dr. Toni Jenkins, the college's executive vice president.

Collin County Community College District serves more than 37,000 credit and continuing education students annually and offers more than 100 degree and certificate programs in a wide range of disciplines. In addition, the CCCCD is a partner to business, government and industry, providing customized training and work force development. The college is one of only nine instructor Cisco Academy Training Centers in the world. This center and the engineering technology program are based at the Preston Ridge Campus in Frisco.

For more information about the Convergence Lab, contact Ann Beheler at (972) 377-1700.