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Local Family of Alumni Supports Cyberlab
In UW-Eau Claire College of Business
MAILED: Feb. 5, 2003
EAU CLAIRE — Robert Scobie remembers the first major technology upgrade at his family business: the switch from manual to electric typewriters.
That was some 40 years ago, and Scobie, now chairman emeritus of R.W. Scobie Inc. in Eau Claire, has since seen many more advances in business technology.
The 87-year-old Scobie, who regularly uses e-mail to keep in touch with his children, speaks from experience when he observes, "Things are bound to change; there's nothing you can do about that."
Those words ring resoundingly true for Robert Scobie's son, Peter Scobie, and nephew, Robert Giles. The two cousins at the helm of R.W. Scobie Inc. have learned and used countless new technologies since the days they used punch cards and a large mainframe computer as University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire business students in the 1960s and 70s.
To help prepare today's UW-Eau Claire business students for what are sure to be technology-intensive careers, Peter Scobie and Giles recently pledged $25,000 to the UW-Eau Claire Foundation in support of the College of Business Cyberlab. Robert Scobie, who attended UW-Eau Claire (then Eau Claire State Teachers College) in the 1930s, also has pledged annual contributions to the project. The gifts will be matched dollar for dollar by a UW System grant that supports technology for business schools.
The gifts from the Scobies and Giles are recognized as contributions to Fulfilling the Promise of Excellence, UW-Eau Claire's ongoing comprehensive fund-raising campaign to secure $35 million in private support by July 2005 for the university's people and programs.
"We hope that the Cyberlab will help graduates from UW-Eau Claire to be better prepared for the cyberworld," said Giles, chief operating officer of R.W. Scobie Inc., an independent managing general insurance agency that provides services to retail agencies in six states.
The College of Business Cyberlab will reside on a server accessible via the Internet 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It will host an array of application software and databases for use by undergraduate and graduate students in accounting, business communication, finance, operations/materials management, human resources management, marketing and management information systems courses.
Students will have access to the Cyberlab anyplace they can use a computer with an Internet connection, and any classroom with Internet connections will be, in essence, a lab. The Cyberlab will enable College of Business students to use technology in more courses than in the past, as faculty will no longer have to vie for lab time and space. It also is expected to better meet the needs of an increasingly mobile student population and adult students enrolled in the university's online business programs.
The object of the Cyberlab is to give students access to the latest business software and to integrate the use of that software into their classes, said Dale Johnson, associate dean in the College of Business. The outcome will be graduates who have in-depth experience using the latest business software programs and who are confident in their ability to learn new technologies.
"What we're really trying to do with the Cyberlab is to help students become fast technical learners," Johnson said.
The Cyberlab is important because it prepares business students for the future, said Peter Scobie, R.W. Scobie chief executive officer and a member of the College of Business advisory board. He noted that it will give UW-Eau Claire business graduates "added value" in the eyes of potential employers, since no other business schools in Wisconsin or Minnesota offer a similar learning environment.
"It will really give them an advantage over other college graduates who haven't had the experiences UW-Eau Claire business students have had," he said.
Johnson credited the Scobies and Giles for supporting a project that won't result in a physical lab or classroom with their names on it.
"They're doing this simply because it will turn out better graduates," he said.
Johnson noted that the university faces a major challenge as the Cyberlab develops: finding the time and funding to allow business faculty to learn specialized software applications and integrate them into their courses. Several faculty members have applied for technology development grants that would support some software training and curriculum preparation this summer.
Like other U.S. universities that have taken on similar projects, UW-Eau Claire is depending on grants and private support for the development of the Cyberlab because it cannot be paid for by funds in the existing budget, Johnson said.
"Private money is really important to the success of the project," he said.
Businesses in the region have a vested interest in the Cyberlab, Johnson added, noting, "These are members of the business community who will be hiring our graduates."
UW-Eau Claire News Bureau
Updated: February 4, 2003