Western Carolina opens new advanced technology area

CULLOWHEE — Western Carolina University cut the ribbon recently on a new $203,000 Collaborative Advanced Technology Area, a roomful of high-end computer workstations that will allow students and faculty to work with the most advanced digital creation hardware and software.

“This is exciting,” Western Chancellor John W. Bardo said at the Dec. 10 ribbon-cutting ceremony. “The capacity of this type of equipment defines where a lot of work is being done nationally in the high-tech field. That means our students are going to leave Western and utilize skills that graduates of most other universities do not have.” The equipment in the facility is usually found only on campuses that offer an engineering degree, Bardo said. The CATA is located in the Coulter Faculty Center within WCU’s Hunter Library. Bob Orr, associate director of the center, said the CATA hardware consists of nine high-end workstations that provide video and audio capturing and editing capabilities, and include video decks, video monitors, digital capture equipment and large-capacity storage devices. All the workstations have high-speed access to a large-capacity server, the campus computer network and the Internet.

The computer workstations can be linked for data-intensive operations to make possible three-dimensional graphics, molecular modeling, animation and three-dimensional geographical mapping, Orr said. All workstations have large-screen computer monitors, high-resolution video interfaces, and can be projected onto a large screen at a high-definition television standard, with sound provided by a professional studio sound system, he said. The overall use of the CATA will be in promoting collaborations among students and faculty in developing projects to enrich and supplement the students’ regular courses.

“The CATA is a response to what the faculty said they wanted and needed to better prepare our students,” Orr said. Bardo said the CATA is a “first step” in a larger effort to advance technology on Western’s campus. Another big step will take place over the next 18 months as WCU builds a Regional Workforce Development Center, a training center that will include even more high-end computer equipment, with facilities for digital video and audio recording and media production, technology-based manufacturing, three-dimensional epoxy laser modeling and information network design, and a center for professional selling in which Western’s students will focus on business-to-business sales. A ground-breaking ceremony for the Regional Workforce Development Center was held Tuesday, Dec. 14. That facility has been funded with $8 million in federal appropriations.