August 28, 2000
The place is cool, clean and has the strangely intoxicating smell of unboxed computers. It's high-tech heaven, confined to a few square feet in the University Center, and right now it's one of the hottest spots on campus.
The computer center, which opened its doors in July, is updating the way faculty, staff and students on the uptown campus shop for and purchase information technology. Stocked with sleek displays of various kinds of computers and supporting peripherals, as well as high-tech gadgets, the center is operated by trained and knowledgeable Tulane staff and student workers.
And though it looks, sounds and smells like a cozy version of Circuit City, those who operate the location are quick to point out that it is not a retail outlet.
"We are an information center," says Dan Diodene. "This is a free service provided to the Tulane community."
Diodene, the marketing coordinator for the materials management office at the Health Sciences Center, says that the center offers prospective buyers the chance to browse products and make informed decisions about their purchases. Beyond that, the outlet will "shop around" for the best price on a piece of equipment, often getting a rock-bottom deal through either educational pricing or Tulane's corporate volume pricing.
Once a product has been selected it can be paid for through either a purchase order or interdepartmental transfer. Faculty, staff and students buying equipment for their personal use may pay by cash, check or credit card. It's a system Diodene knows will work. He is dividing much of his time these days between the uptown campus location and a similar venue he opened more than 18 months ago on the downtown campus at 127 Elks Place.
Diodene and Dan Sintich, director of materials management for the downtown campus, became something of pioneers in marketing information technology to academic consumers when they established a computer center on the fourth floor of Elks Place in 1999. To this day it is the only such program to be operated by a purchasing department, says Diodene, who adds that Gateway has patterned its campus computing program on Tulane's computing center.
"It's difficult to buy technical pieces of equipment while being guided by only the information you get from brochures and magazines," says Sintech. "We're giving buyers a chance to see the footprint, kick the tires, see how a computer functions with scanners and printers and make intelligent decisions."
The program worked so well on the downtown campus that when Compaq Computers indicated it would no longer operate a store on the uptown campus, senior vice president Tony Lorino solicited Sintich to open a location in the University Center. Sintich says the expansion of the operation has been "seamless." Kelly Venable Carroll, assistant director of auxiliary services, agrees.
"We are accustomed to bringing in partners from outside the university to fill various needs," she said. "This is one of the first times where we have used another department at Tulane."
Carroll adds that it is often difficult for outside organizations to operate in an academic environment. "When they come to the university and must work with students it changes the whole situation," she says. Serving a high volume of students will be a challenge for the materials management department as well.
The Elks Place outlet serves primarily faculty and staff, as the number of medical students is relatively low. While calling it a "new adventure" Diodene and Sintech say they can accommodate the anticipated back-to-school crush on the uptown campus by beefing up the center's staff and student workers.
Ads for the outlet have been placed in the Hullaballoo and in the orientation material that went out to new students. "I'm happy with what we have done so far," says Diodene. "I am hoping to do more. I am hoping at some point that when people think about their computing needs that they will think about us first."
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