One of the newest technologies shaping the computing and telecommunications field, Voice-over Internet Protocol, or VoIP, is coming to Fort Hays State University.
FHSU President Edward H. Hammond announced at a news conference this morning that a group of key partners has come together to lay the groundwork for a unique academic offering.
"The university, this fall, has become one of only a handful in the United States that offers coursework and applied laboratory experiences for students in VoIP technologies," said Hammond. "FHSU, through our Department of Information Networking and Telecommunications, working with Nex-Tech and Rural Telephone and Cisco Systems, is once again a national leader. This leadership benefits our students and positions them ahead of graduates of other universities when they enter the job market."
The innovative VoIP technology allows voice and data to travel on the same network. The consolidation of networks can substantially reduce telephone costs, provide powerful features and even allow a phone or phone number to follow the user worldwide. Major United States corporations and governmental agencies are poised to migrate to this technology. However, due to the infancy of this technology, few engineers, network architects and IT professionals have the skills to design, deploy or support VoIP networks.
"The mission of Nex-Tech and Rural Telephone is to provide cost-effective, state-of-the-art technologies and do so through professional, well-trained employees," said Larry Sevier, chief executive officer of Rural Telephone and Nex-Tech in a statement read by Jeff Wick, chief operating officer of Nex-Tech. Sevier, previously committed to a meeting in Washington, DC, was unable to attend.
"We see no better manner to ensure that Nex-Tech and Rural Telephone succeed in this mission than bringing voice-over IP technology into the classroom environment at Fort Hays State -- the University which has a proven track record of training and
educating technology professionals, many of whom we employ in our company," said Sevier's statement, which continued: "Many individuals are to be recognized in bringing this project to Fort Hays State University: Dr. Hammond, Dr. Mark Bannister, Jon Tholstrup and Rep. Jerry Moran. Our vendor Tekelec of Morrisville, NC, has also stepped up, providing assistance to bring this project to the University in a rapid and timely manner. I would also like to take the opportunity to thank the employees of Nex-Tech and Rural Telephone who have dedicated the time to thoroughly understand and implement Voice over IP technology. These employees will continue to play a role in this project as they assist in the classroom, lab and testing environments at the University."
Dr. Mark Bannister, chair of the INT Department, explained: "The INT Department will begin to incorporate VoIP in coursework. It will most predominately be incorporated in the INT 662 Modern Telephony course. VoIP will also be incorporated into courses on network architecture and data communications, network security and professional networking certification courses. If this were not unique enough, coursework will be offered not only to on-campus students, but also to distance learning students. Many of these distance learning students are in the U.S. military, which is positioning itself to use VoIP.
"To me, one of the most exciting aspects of this initiative is the manner in which it developed," said Bannister. "The INT Advisory Council, which consists of alumni, industry representatives and students, identified VoIP as a priority in order to provide new graduates with highly competitive skills that meet information technology industry needs. Instead of suggesting an idea and then ducking, the people at the table jumped in to make this happen. Alumni provided links to information and industry resources. Industry members, particularly Nex-Tech, stood up and volunteered to help make this happen. Faculty have worked uncompensated summer hours to prepare and to coordinate with industry personnel. Students have provided input and thoughts and have recruited other students to the program. Additionally, President Hammond and Congressman Moran were willing to help get this important initiative off the ground."
U.S. Rep. Jerry Moran, R-Hays, provided FHSU and the INT Department with an early Christmas present in 2004. Moran assisted FHSU in securing a $250,000 federal appropriation to assist in distance and technology learning. Of this amount, approximately $50,000 was used to purchase equipment to allow both on-campus and distance learning students to study VoIP technology. In a statement delivered by Rachel Roach, a representative from his office, Congressman Moran said, "I believe it is very important that rural areas have access to advanced information technologies. FHSU has been especially effective in working to spread advanced technologies and coursework to rural areas. This is extremely vital to rural Kansas and to the Big First District."
Moran statement said, "FHSU is a national leader in providing IT education and online degrees for the U.S. military. An increasingly high-tech military is requiring the type of information technology education FHSU provides. Today's military is dependent upon reliable and robust information networks. Fort Hays State's initiative will be an asset for America's fighting forces."
Nex-Tech has stepped forward to offer FHSU what Hammond described as "extremely valuable help in launching VoIP educational efforts." Nex-Tech will provide FHSU with an Internet Protocol telephone, an analog to IP phone converter, up to 30 softphone licenses that will allow telephone access over personal computers, a set of assigned phone numbers and unlimited access to a VoIP softswitch. Nex-Tech employees with VoIP expertise will be available to assist with class development, labs, projects and general proficiency.
"We could not have gotten this effort off the ground without the help of Nex-Tech," said Bannister. "Nex-Tech has been very aggressive in deploying VoIP and is nationally in front of the curve of most telecommunications providers in using this technology. As an academic institution, we would not have the financial resources to acquire the equipment that Nex-Tech is willing to make available. Sharing of expertise and supporting interaction between Nex-Tech employees, FHSU faculty and FHSU students produces a creative melting pot for learning, ideas and innovation."
Nex-Tech has also worked with its primary VoIP vendor, Tekelec, to bring this initiative to FHSU. Tekelec is a leading developer of next-generation switching and signaling telecommunications solutions and applications. Tekelec, through Nex-Tech, is speeding to market softphone availability so FHSU and its Virtual College students have access to VoIP technology.
The final piece of the puzzle came together with the help of international technology giant Cisco Systems. Cisco World Wide Education, a component of the company's philanthropic division, decided that, in partnership with a select group of higher education institutions, it would develop a VoIP curriculum. FHSU was one of only 20 colleges and universities nationwide invited to participate in this initiative.
In July, Jon Tholstrup, instructor of information networking and telecommunications at FHSU, spent a week in Silicon Valley at Cisco's San Jose campus. Tholstrup said FHSU was selected to offer this curriculum because of "our track record of preparing students for the leading edge in networking and telecommunications technologies."
"This VoIP technology is so new that textbooks, tests and lab exercises are being created for the first time," said Tholstrup. "Cisco assembled an early stage curriculum and sought faculty input and assistance in developing it along with laboratory exercises and labs. We, as faculty, will still have significant work to do, but we have a network of experts at Cisco and other faculty who will be sharing information and teaching tools."
Hammond commended Tholstrup. "Time and time again, FHSU faculty who are on nine-month contracts have taken substantial portions of their summers to develop courses, prepare new materials, conduct research and master new technologies," he said.
"The ability of the university to retain its reputation for having a 'high-tech, high-touch' environment is due to the commitment of faculty like Tholstrup who go above and beyond the call of duty for the benefit of students," said Hammond.
Bannister noted, "We have proven to employers nationwide that FHSU has outstanding faculty and students who are excited to adopt new technologies and prepare students for professional careers. We are pleased to provide the technology talent that benefits Kansas and beyond. Our recent graduates have taken positions locally with organizations such as Nex-Tech; Rural Telephone; Eagle Communications; NEW; Sunflower Telephone; the Hays, Spearville, Hill City and Dodge City school districts; Northwest Kansas Technical College; FHSU; Hays Medical Center and other medical organizations; the City of Hays; the Kansas Department of Administration Chief Information Architect's Office; Love Box; Cessna; Cargill; and Payless Shoe Source. Other recent alumni are working in national organizations such as Apple Computers; Sprint; Cisco Systems; IBM; Pervasive Software; SBC; Nex-Tel; Century Tel; Lincoln Mutual Insurance; and the FBI."