A-Z Index

The Electronic Campus

Propelled by the vision of its ninth president, Dr. Dean Hubbard, and director of computing services, Dr. Jon Rickman, Northwest flipped the switch on its “Electronic Campus” in 1987 and became the first public institution in the nation with networked computers in each residence hall room and faculty office. Northwest began to embed computer infrastructure in its academic landscape years earlier when it acquired, during the 1977-1978 academic year, a computer to function as a server with multiple terminal access that make computing available to students and faculty beyond the departments of mathematics and computer science – but the Electronic Campus placed the University at the forefront and generated national attention.

A decade later with the advent of the internet, Northwest upgraded its network to support student, faculty and staff use of multimedia and web-based applications while further enhancing learning at the University. In 1999, the University also established its Center for Information Technology in Education, or CITE, with state-provided mission enhancement funding to support the instructional technology needs and launched Northwest Online as a platform to offer online coursework.

Subsequently, Northwest formed a partnership with the Colorado Community College System that allowed students to transfer from a community college and complete bachelor’s degrees in business through Northwest Online. In December 2001, Christina Pasqua of Sterling, Colorado, became the first student to complete a degree through Northwest Online, earning her bachelor’s in business management.

As technology has advanced, so has Northwest. In 2005, Northwest began providing fully loaded notebook computers, and technical support, to all enrolled students. Bundled with the University’s textbook rental program, which provides undergraduate students with all of their primary textbooks at the start of each semester, it saves students thousands of dollars during the course of a four-year academic career compared to their peers at other universities.

Photo timeline: The evolution of the Electronic Campus

Friden EC132 Calculator (1965) | A 50-pound calculator used in Northwest's physics, chemistry and mathematics department, it was commonly available as a solid-state desktop electronic calculator. (Courtesy of the Jean Jennings Bartik Computing Museum)HP2115A Micro Computer (1971) | Purchased by Northwest in 1971 for use in the physics, chemistry and mathematics department, it was the first computer to be dedicated entirely to academic use. (Courtesy of the Jean Jennings Bartik Computing Museum)Altair 8800 (1975) | The first personal computer on the market, Northwest purchased one for its library in 1975. Unfortunately, the Altair was not capable of supporting library applications. (Courtesy of the Jean Jennings Bartik Computing Museum)Commodore PET 2001 Series (1977) | Northwest's computer science department purchased Commodore PETs for teacher education in 1977. (Courtesy of the Jean Jennings Bartik Computing Museum)Northwest's computer science department purchased Commodore PETs for teacher education in 1977. Radio Shack TRS-80 (1978) | The TRS-80 was used in Northwest's agricultural department, primarily for the creation of farm management spreadsheets. (Courtesy of the Jean Jennings Bartik Computing Museum)Apple II (1978) | Apple II computers were purchased by Northwest for teacher education in 1978. (Courtesy of the Jean Jennings Bartik Computing Museum)Osborne (1980s) | The first portable personal computer was purchased and used by Northwest's agricultural department. Few programs would run because the screen was limited to 40 character lines. (Courtesy of the Jean Jennings Bartik Computing Museum)Kaypro 10 (1980s) | The first practical portable computer, the Kaypro weighed 25 pounds and the 9-inch screen was a vast improvement over the Obsorne. The Kaypro was used by Northwest's computing services department, now the Office of Information Technology. (Courtesy of the Jean Jennings Bartik Computing Museum)Richard Fitzgerald completes a program on a video terminal in 1982. In 1984, Dr. Jon Rickman, who was then Northwest’s director of computer services and retired in 2011 as vice president of information systems after 35 years at the University, stands by the dual VAX in the B.D. Owens Library’s computing Center.Early computing used IBM punch cards for data files and entry. Punch cards were used at Northwest until 1986.DEC Rainbow (1986) | Northwest purchased 200 DEC Rainbows in the 1980s. The DEC Rainbows were good text computers but failed to keep up with the demand for graphics. (Courtesy of the Jean Jennings Bartik Computing Museum)Northwest President Dean Hubbard (left) pulls a ceremonial switch, marking the launch of the University’s “Electronic Campus” on Aug. 18, 1987, with Gov. John Ashcroft and Shaila Aery, Missouri’s commissioner for higher education. Northwest was the first public university in the nation to have a campus-wide computing system.Beginning in 1987, every Northwest residence hall room was equipped with a computer terminal networked to a common server that provided access to an online library catalog, word processing and email.Students take advantage of a computing lab in the B.D. Owens Library.Zenith Data Systems (1988) | The Zenith Data Systems, which Northwest purchased for various departments, ran an array of professional software and could handle colors and graphics. (Courtesy of the Jean Jennings Bartik Computing Museum)Students gathered in an early electronic classroom in the Garrett-Strong Science Building with Dr. Harlan Higginbotham teaching a general chemistry course.Toshiba Notebook Computer (1994) | Northwest purchased 200 Toshiba Notebook Computers for its EC Plus pilot program in 1994. The program was designed to provide students with a powerful portable education tool. But students were not interested in the program at the time and described the notebook computers like a "ball and chain." (Courtesy of the Jean Jennings Bartik Computing Museum)IBM Thinkpad (1996) | By 1996, about 600 University-owned notebook computers were on the Northwest campus, including the IBM Thinkpad, which eventually replaced the Toshiba in popularity. Students, however, still did not see the value in having notebook computers. (Courtesy of the Jean Jennings Bartik Computing Museum)Upgraded VAX terminals graced residence hall rooms until 1997 when computing services installed new networks PCs in each room.MTECH Computer (1997) | Northwest purchased 2,000 MTECH computers in 1997 and placed one each residence hall room. They had a removable hard drive, which made maintenance easy and relatively hassle-free due to the standardized loadset. (Courtesy of the Jean Jennings Bartik Computing Museum)Gateway Notebook Computer (2005) | In 2005, more than 2,200 notebook computers were distributed to students, signaling the beginning of a new Northwest notebook computer program that provided a wireless-ready notebook computer to every student living on campus. Students living off-campus had the opportunity to rent similar notebook computers for the semester. Unlike with the EC Plus program in the 1990s, students embraced the new technology, and desktop computers were removed from residence halls as each student living on campus now had a notebook computer. (Courtesy of the Jean Jennings Bartik Computing Museum)HP Computers (2008) | More than 140 HP Desktop Computers were installed in general purpose computing labs at the B.D. Owens Library in 2008. (Courtesy of the Jean Jennings Bartik Computing Museum)Since 2008, Northwest has provided all full-time undergraduate and graduate students with HP wireless-ready notebook computers as part of an expanded laptop rental program.Students use their Northwest laptops while taking advantage of the technology available in a new “model classroom” in Colden Hall in this 2015 photo. A pair of students use their Northwest laptops to collaborate inside the Office of Diversity and Inclusion.Students use their Northwest laptops during a biology lab course taught by Dr. Gretchen Thornsberry in 2023.