NEWS

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September 19, 2007

News in Brief

System will enable emergency SMS alerts

The University of Chicago has rolled out a new notification system that will use voice messages, e-mail, and text messaging to update the University community as emergency situations develop.

According to Greg Jackson, vice president and chief information officer, cAlert is the culmination of several years of discussion among University administrators on how to best improve emergency notification systems on campus. Previously, the University sent out mass e-mails and voice mails in the case of emergencies. However, Jackson highlighted that the new system will allow administrators to target specific groups or areas on campus, as well as notify individuals with text messages, two capabilities previously absent.

When speaking of the University’s need for an updated system, Jackson noted that during some situations in the past, “Information didn’t get out. We needed a broader way of addressing things that happen on campus.”

Specifically, Jackson noted the occasions on which the University has shut down due to extreme weather and administrators have had a difficult time notifying the University community. In other, more isolated incidents, such as serial arson crimes in fall of 2005, a system like cAlert would have been helpful in dispelling rumors and keeping the community up to date. Jackson acknowledged that the Virginia Tech shootings caused the University to further accelerate the implementation of the system.

Jackson stressed that the system exists “just in case it is necessary.” The University expects to test the system about once per quarter, but the Networking Services and Information Technology’s (NSIT) website emphasizes that “the information in the emergency notification system will be used only to contact you in case of emergency, a University closing, or some other event that requires rapid, wide-scale notification of the community.”

According to Jackson, the new system comprises three components: a database containing contact information; an outsourced (and off-campus) system to send rapid, short contact messages to the specified contact points; and a group of “initiators,” individuals trained and authorized to send messages.

Eventually, Jackson said, the University hopes to also implement a P.A. system throughout the quads that will broadcast emergency messages. Both emergency notification mechanisms will be managed by NSIT in conjunction with the U of C’s Emergency Management Group.

To register for cAlert, visit calert.uchicago.edu and log in using your CnetID and password. The site allows each individual to specify up to 10 points of contact.

—Mimi Yang

GSB prospects to power up on PowerPoint

The University of Chicago’s Graduate School of Business (GSB) will require applicants to submit four-slide PowerPoint presentations this fall, alongside more traditional essays, test scores, and recommendations.

The business school hopes the PowerPoint policy will encourage creativity in the admission process, which is often clogged with applications detailing corporate achievement rather than unique or unquantifiable skills.

Admission officials believe the presentations will better allow them to spot clever, crafty students whose talents may not be best represented by test scores.

“We wanted to have a free-form space for students to be able to say what they think is important, not always having the school run that dialogue,” said Rose Martinelli, associate dean for student recruitment and admissions, in a recent Associated Press article.

The move also reflects the GSB’s recognition of PowerPoint’s ubiquity in the business world. Microsoft estimates that nearly 30 million PowerPoint presentations are performed each day.

The admissions policy change has met with mixed reception. Those who praise the policy regard it as a bold move, displaying foresight about the future of innovation and technological communication in the business world.

The policy’s detractors deny the claim that PowerPoint presentations represent a creative outlet, and attack the program as an inefficient medium.

“When you evaluate this creativity based upon two dimensional screen captures devoid of the very creative energy you sought to assess, you might as well have students submit their test scores and forgo the technology charade,” said Michael McVey, a professor of education at Eastern Michigan University, on the education blog LeaderTalk.

The GSB’s website portrays the PowerPoint requirement as an unconventional opportunity to provide viewers with content that captures the applicant’s personality. Students may only express themselves with words and static images in their PowerPoint presentations—hyperlinks and videos are not permitted.

Applicants without access to PowerPoint or similar software may instead use four sheets of paper.

—Chris Ross