Montana State University

MSU computer science lab gives Silicon Valley flair to study space

February 27, 2014 -- By Sepp Jannotta, MSU News Service

The Computer Science Department will inaugurate a new student success center, which is designed as a study and tutoring facility, on Friday with a sushi open house from 3-5 p.m. in EPS 254. The open house includes a formal program that begins at 4:15 p.m. MSU Photo by Kelly Gorham.    High-Res Available

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Tel: (406) 994-4571
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BOZEMAN – With its adjustable lighting, carpeted floors, lounge seating and Japanese theme, the newly remodeled computer lab in Montana State University’s EPS Building looks more like a Bay Area tech start-up than a traditional College of Engineering study space.

The Computer Science Department will inaugurate the space, which is designed as a study and tutoring facility, on Friday with a sushi open house from 3-5 p.m. in EPS 254. The open house includes a formal program that begins at 4:15 p.m.

The room’s hint of something out of the GooglePlex or Facebook’s headquarters is by design, said John Paxton, head of the Computer Science Department, pointing to the collaborative and contemporary feel of the space. With fewer desktop computers, the room features mostly open tables that are wired to accommodate laptops and tablets, while wireless Internet accommodates those sitting in the lounge area. A display of framed Japanese woodblock prints ties into the room’s bamboo accents. Gone are the cubicles, linoleum floors and harsh fluorescent lights.

“We are looking at this active learning space as the focal point of our program,” Paxton said. “And we are excited to show the MSU community a space that could serve as a model for future student success centers around campus. We have put some extra touches into it, including a Japanese theme, to convey to our students that we live in a global world. Despite the fast pace and forward-looking nature of the tech world, we hope the artwork will remind us to reflect upon the past beauty that humanity has produced and inspire us to play our part in creating a beautiful future.”

Paxton added that the Japan Studies Minor is popular among students in the Computer Science Department.

Paxton said he has noticed a dramatic increase in student use of the space since it was opened earlier this semester, with the lab being near maximum occupancy at certain times of the day. Where EPS 254 was chronically under utilized in the past, there is now a growing list of volunteers signing up to hold tutoring hours in the room, something that indicates students are invigorated by the addition of the facility to their program, Paxton said.

“The fact that students from our clubs are volunteering to tutor and mentor students in lower division computer science courses is an added benefit to our department,” Paxton said. “We designed the room to send a message to our students that we really care about their experience here, and now they seem to be repaying that in kind by volunteering.”

Brett Gunnink, dean of MSU’s College of Engineering, said the facility taps the computer science program into a culture of interdisciplinary collaboration that is critical for producing the kind of students needed to fill the next generation of tech careers.

“This is an investment that we think will pay off in terms of recruitment and retention of top students in the computer science field,” Gunnink said. “MSU is committed to meeting the demands of Montana companies seeking top-flight talent to grow their businesses and expand the state’s technology sector.”

Contact: John Paxton, (406) 994-4780, paxton@cs.montana.edu.