by Kathleen Scalise
U.S. Assistant Commerce Secretary Larry Irving summed up the aim of Berkeley's latest technology outreach project at a press conference last week with just three words: "Wired. Now what?"
Irving said the Commerce Department awarded the campus $650,000 to answer that question through its new Interactive University, which will show K-12 schools what they can do with Internet hardware many now have.
"The Bay Area is well known for its beautiful bridges, but with this grant, and more than $4 million dollars that participants will contribute in matching resources, we are building a new, invisible bridge across the Bay ‚ a bridge between K-12 and higher education," said The Vice Chancellor and Provost Carol T. Christ, who is coordinating the project.
This project will allow seventh graders in an urban school to use NASA satellite data to do math and science projects, and will allow a high school freshman class to take a field trip to Mount Diablo without leaving the school.
"These activities will be made possible through our unprecedented collaboration to build a national technology model."
Held at Phillip and Sala Burton High School in San Francisco, the unveiling of the Interactive University grant brought together many supporters, including San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown.
Brown's presence at Burton High was met with surprise and enthusiasm by students, who peeked out of classrooms whispering, "Is that the mayor?" and calling, "Hi, Willie!"
Brown pointed out that the Interactive University represents an unusual partnership between schools and communities.
It is a collaboration of the university and schools, community groups and industry partners in San Francisco and Oakland, part of the Berkeley Pledge.Other partners in the project are the city of Oakland, more than a dozen schools in Oakland and San Francisco, and corporate leaders IBM and Pacific Bell.
Through the Interactive University, K-12 students can capture images with the UC Santa Barbara Remotely Operated Telescope run by UC astronomers, have a Berkeley student serve as their personal tutor, do their math with data supplied by researchers operating a NASA satellite and go online to discuss world affairs with distinguished international visitors to the campus.
All told, 30 departments and several hundred Berkeley professors, staff members and students are expected to participate in the project.
The Commerce Department applauded the Bay Area program for using technology to make a successful connection between students in needy communities and university mentors.
The federal funds are a product of an "initiative to help bridge the gap between the information 'haves' and 'have nots'," Commerce Secretary Mickey Kantor said. "The Telecommunications and Information Infrastructure Assistance Program is helping to prepare our citizens for the Information Age and assuring that all Americans have access to its benefits."
Examples of Interactive University activities include:
Undergraduates in the Haas School of Business tutoring and mentoring 11th-grade students at Thurgood Marshall High School in San Francisco via desktop video-conferencing. Partners on this project include the Graduate School of Education.
o Chat sessions between world leaders, dignitaries and Bay Area students, through the award-winning Institute of International Studies project at Berkeley. Last spring the project permitted 10th-grade students in San Francisco's Hunters Point to talk remotely with Sir Brian Urquhart, former undersecretary-general of the United Nations.
o Training teachers in Oakland's Fruitvale Elementary School and San Francisco's Phillip and Sala Burton High School to use Internet data from the Berkeley/NASA Extreme Ultraviolet Explorer satellite to teach math. This project is sponsored by Berkeley's Center for Extreme Ultraviolet Astrophysics.
o Providing young science students with hands-on control of the UC Santa Barbara Remotely Operated Telescope to search for supernovas and seek evidence of black holes. The Center for Particle Astrophysics offers this experience.
o Virtual field trips on the "Trail Through Time," which stretches across 150 million years of natural history at Mount Diablo. This trek through time, developed by high school students working with Berkeley researchers and graduate students, features graphics and data from Museum of Paleontology collections. It documents the region's life, fossils and geology over millions of years.