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High Tech

Students, faculty benefit from UW’s technology renaissance

Volume 14 | Number 3 | May/June 2013

By Ron Podell
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The Trading Room in the University of Wyoming’s College of Business helped prepare Cliff Peterson for a career in high finance. It just wasn’t the career he expected.

The December 2012 graduate, with a master’s degree in finance, credits UW’s Investment Income course as the springboard that landed him a job as a financial analyst for BP’s North American
Gas region.

“There is no doubt in my mind that I would not be in my current position had I not been in that class and had access to the tools provided,” Peterson says. “First, I had not even considered working for an energy company before that class. I know that sounds odd, especially coming from a student at a school which specializes in energy, but I was only focusing on the large financial firms. Had I not been in that class, I would not have realized that the energy sector is poised to be one of the best-performing, highest-growth sectors in the economy.”

Peterson’s experience is similar to other recent UW graduates who have benefited from a wave of advanced technology that has been instituted in classrooms across the university—a boost that has helped propel them into real-world careers.

UW’s technology renaissance began with a $14.6 million renovation and expansion of the Classroom Building, which was completed in March 2007. The facility now includes 27 high-end technology spaces, including three triple-projection rooms, 11 dual-projection rooms and 11 single-projection rooms. All rooms feature DVDs, document cameras, laptop connections and sound systems with multiple microphone choices.

At the same time that project was funded, the 2005 Wyoming State Legislature appropriated $4 million for renovations to other high-use classrooms. Upgrades have since taken place in the Anthropology Building, the Education Annex, Coe Library, the College of Law and the Agricultural Auditorium. High-end technology classrooms also are found in the Berry Biodiversity Conservation Center, the Information Technology Center and the new Visual Arts Building.

A 2 percent tuition increase set in March 2012 by the UW Board of Trustees will contribute directly to students’ educational experience by generating about $3.5 million over the next two years to help fund additional technology upgrades in campus classrooms and laboratories.

 

In addition to state dollars, corporations and individuals have provided large-dollar donations to enhance technology on campus. A prime example is the Encana Integrated Simulation Data Center, which opened in fall 2010 on the fourth floor of the College of Engineering and Applied Science.

The data center was one of three labs funded through a $2 million gift from Encana Oil & Gas USA in 2006 that was matched by the state. Energy service companies Halliburton and
Schlumberger donated exploration and production modeling software used globally by oil and gas professionals.

Also known as the Reservoir Simulation Lab, the facility allows UW’s Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering to teach courses on oil and gas reservoir behavior, drilling and production.

“The majority of skills that the Encana Integrated Simulation Data Center provided me had to do with reservoir simulations and modeling. I was able to gain a level of familiarity with simulation software that, at least on the UW campus, I would not have been able to achieve if it weren’t for the Encana lab,” says David Scadden, a 2012 petroleum engineering graduate who works as a strategic project engineer at Encana’s Denver office. “In addition to the technical development the lab provided, it also was an ideal situation to practice giving presentations in front of peers and teachers. This, I believe, is
a valuable asset when it comes to preparing engineers to be able to present projects to co-workers, managers and executives.”

Vladimir Alvarado, a UW associate professor of chemical and petroleum engineering who has a professional background working for the National Oil Co. of Venezuela, conceptualized the data center after similar centers in the energy industry. Engineers cannot operate in a silo, he says, but must be able to connect with societal and environmental impacts when integrating
decisions that affect the surface and subsurface of an oil well.

“It creates a more critical engineer that understands how to operate while looking at the bigger picture,” Alvarado says. “Petroleum engineering is just not a hard hat on the rig. That’s a good thing, but there are more opportunities such as reservoir engineer, production engineer or transportation pipeline person.”

Ashish Dhital, a December 2012 graduate with a master’s degree in computer science, used the 3-D environment in UW’s Distributed Robotics Laboratory for some of his coursework. That experience helped him secure a 2012 summer internship in the Parallel Computational Science program at the National Center for Atmospheric Research. He now works as a software engineer at Medical Simulation Corporation in Denver.

“I think the courses with the Computer Science Department, especially computer graphics and human computer interaction, helped me to do well during [job] interviews,” Dhital says. “And that’s what got me the job.”

Then there’s the Trading Room, where Peterson and other UW business and finance majors have begun to learn the inner machinations of Wall Street and high finance. And, by the way, they trade with real money—in the amount of $1.25 million, provided by the state and the UW Foundation.

“This is really what it is like when you’re on a trader’s desk at a major world brokerage firm,” says Patrick Fleming, a lecturer in UW’s Department of Economics & Finance who teaches the Portfolio Management course. He worked on Wall Street and in international markets, including Hong Kong, London and Tokyo, for three decades before coming to Wyoming’s university.“We have the ability to trade real money in real time for real-world experience.”

The Trading Room includes multiple large flat-screen TVs mounted on the wall; a sound system; and a row of clocks that display the time in New York, London, Moscow and Beijing. Students study multiple Bloomberg terminal computer screens that allow them to analyze the stock market. A screensaver shot of the bear sculpture outside Half Acre Gym serves as UW’s version of Wall Street’s iconic bull statue.

In the large atrium outside the classroom, a stock ticker on the wall gives an air of being on the floor of the stock exchange. In all, the College of Business boasts 34 high-end classrooms, seminar rooms and conference rooms. Many are tiered with state-of-the-art multimedia systems.

 

While students are learning technological skills they can apply in their careers, UW faculty members say the university’s technological advances are helping to make them better teachers.

For example, Matthew Carling, a UW assistant professor of zoology and physiology, says a website he provides in his Ornithology class offers more information to his students than he could possibly provide in two 50-minute lectures per week.

“I cannot draw the tremendous diversity of birds on the whiteboard, nor can I perform any of the elaborate courtship or predatory behaviors of birds that I show in pictures or videos. I cannot mimic bird calls or songs,” says Carling, who teaches his class in the Berry Biodiversity Center. “For those reasons, it’s difficult for me to imagine being able to convince students of the overwhelming ‘cool’ factor of birds without the use of technology.”

The university’s technological tools have helped Alvarado adopt a new mindset while teaching courses in the simulation data center. Similar to how students interact on their smartphones or through social media, Alvarado has the ability to take what one student sees on his or her computer and present it on an overhead projector screen to allow the entire class to better visualize and interact with one another.

“The fundamentals of teaching and the environment are broadened with these technologies,” he says.

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