Celebrating 20 years of the SMU STAR Program

SMU STAR Program at 20In early 1998, Professor Bonnie Wheeler approached then Director of the Digital Commons Robert Skinner about way to help faculty realize their pedagogical vision but did not have the technical expertise to fulfill it. Out of those early discussions came the Accelerated Student Assistant Program (ASAP) and Student Technology Assistant in Residence (STAR) Program. While the ASAP Boot Camp only lasted a few years, the SMU STAR Program still continues today in its mission to assist faculty on short-term instructional technology projects.

In those first years, incoming freshmen were invited to apply for the Accelerated Student Assistant Program (ASAP), giving students free training in computer and people skills and provides SMU departments with a pool of technically trained student assistants by the start of school.  If accepted, the students would arrive on campus before the start of the Fall term and begin an intensive five-day training in information technology and customer service. The University provided for on-campus room and board during the training. Throughout the week, students had the opportunity to meet with recruiters from a variety of departments that needed skilled student workers.

Alliance of Dance Notation web site
“Alliance of Dance Notation Educators” Website for Patty Harrington Delaney in 2001.

Those students who show exceptional overall skills during the week were invited to join the SMU STAR Program. These students showed not only the technical skills but the desire to help faculty create Web pages – remember it was the late 90’s and the web still felt “new” – and assist with other classroom-related technology projects. The SMU STAR Program also supplied these students with a loaner laptop and competitive campus pay.

The Mourners
The Mourners: A multidisciplinary course website for Dallas Museum of Art and Bonnie Wheeler in 2010

In 2003, the ASAP Boot Camp was rebooted as a credit course during the student’s freshman year. This Multimedia Applications course taught jointly by Robert Skinner and Ian Aberle, the STAR Program Manager, satisfied both the University’s undergraduate IT requirement, as well as providing the requisite training for students to succeed in the SMU STAR program. With the new format, these students thrived both academically and in the program allowing academic technology projects grow in their complexity and creativity.

Over the years, the SMU STAR Program has assisted on hundreds of technology projects, everything from web pages to interactive CD-ROMs – remember, it was the early 2000s – to enhanced PowerPoint presentations to video training and creating 3D models. Many of the faculty enjoyed working with the STARs and appreciated the one-on-one work with the students. “The SMU STAR Program was a true lifesaver for me… My [STAR Student] patiently sat with me, instructed me, corrected me, and helped me,” recalled Dr. Martha Satz.

Quick Stat with Kyle Roberts
“Quick Stat with Kyle Roberts” video tutorial series in 2012.

Under new leadership in Academic Technology, the Multimedia Applications course was discontinued in 2010 as many incoming freshmen had the basic technical skills needed for many of the projects. The STAR Program also had a new home in Fondren Library. This Faculty Media Lab gave the STAR Program new visibility on campus, with their previous offices being in basements and obscure hallways, but also added new computing workstations to assist with high-definition video editing and more computationally intensive tasks.

Dr. Tony Cuevas, the Director of Instructional Design and Learning Technologies in Simmons School of Education and Human Development and former manager of the SMU STAR Program approved of the updated space and work by the STARs. In 2015, during the OE2C reviews, he shared his thoughts with the IT Leadership, “The SMU STAR Program and Faculty Media Lab have been essential to the success of the Simmons School of Education and Human Development hybrid and online learning initiatives…the STAR Program and Faculty Media Lab helped our faculty create websites, video, audio and multimedia materials to support their teaching and research. As our students expect more options for hybrid and online learning, our faculty increasingly require the type of assistance provided by the STAR Program and Faculty Media Lab to compete with other graduate programs in the region.”

Today, the SMU STAR Program is managed by Dr. Michael Robertson under OIT’s Academic Technology Service and is housed in Dedman College. Students are still available to work on those short-term instructional technology projects. “The program continues to be a valuable resource to SMU faculty across the university,” Dr. Roberson remarked. “Since fall 2016, the STAR program has completed over 85 instructional technology projects for SMU faculty. In the coming years, we hope to locate a larger space dedicated to the program, allowing us to expand the number of STAR students we hire annually.” Faculty can still request a STAR Student at stars.smu.edu.

If you have any questions about the SMU STAR Program or have an idea for a project, please feel free to reach out to Dr. Robertson at robertsonm@smu.edu.

Updated 12/14/2018 with a quote from Dr. Michael Robertson.

Published by

Ian Aberle

Ian Aberle is the IT Communications Specialist and Trainer for the Office of Information Technology (OIT) at Southern Methodist University (SMU). He started at SMU in 1996 and, for much of his career at the University, had managed the SMU STAR Program before joining the Training & Communications Team in 2015. In his free time, Ian enjoys photography and road trips with his family. You can see examples of when the two collide at ianaberle.com.