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Halligan renovations advance collaboration, ignore outdated technology

Published: Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Updated: Wednesday, February 19, 2014 09:02


 Each semester, hundreds of Tufts students embark on study abroad programs across the world. Some Jumbos adventure to semesters in cities like Paris or Hong Kong, but others studying computer science or electrical engineering may end up choosing a location closer to campus: Halligan Hall.

Neighboring Cousens Gym, Halligan Hall is the central workplace of fervent computer science students, electrical and computer engineers, teaching assistants and faculty alike. The building underwent renovations last summer to create quality collaboration spaces for students and faculty, as well as to improve energy efficiency and accessibility, according to a statement issued by the School of Engineering. 

This semester, students and faculty have reflected on the renovations, expressing how such improvements have facilitated better group-based computer science work in Halligan.

“It’s funny, you think about programming as a solitary experience: ‘It’s me and my computer, and I program it,’” Department of Computer Science Chair Soha Hassoun said. “I think that maybe was one of the reasons people didn’t want to come into computing ... But we’re really changing that.”

Contradicting the anti-social stereotype, a number of students who spend long hours in Halligan have described their experiences as highly collaborative. Sophomore Colin Watts, majoring in electrical engineering, discussed the importance of student collaboration for Machine Structure and Assembly Language Programming (COMP 40), which he said is one of the department’s most challenging courses.

“All of the COMP 40 people know each other because they’re in the labs working all the time,” Watts said. “If anybody has a problem or an issue, they can basically just stand up and shout, ‘Who else has this problem?’ and they’re bound to get a reply.”

Even non-majors, such as sophomore Kira Ambrose who is taking Introduction to Computer Science to complement her quantitative economics major, have experienced the Halligan Hall camaraderie.

“I feel like we work a lot with the TAs, because when you start out, everyone is pretty lost,” Ambrose said. “We’re not really much help for each other except for further confusion.”

The renovations also created new work spaces and multipurpose rooms, according to Chair of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering Eric Miller.

“The reconfigurable rooms are certainly amongst the shared spaces that we went for,” Miller said. “The tables and chairs can be easily moved so that the room can go from a classroom to a lecture hall to a seminar with very little effort. I think in that sense, we have [promoted] this ergonomic trend.”

In several of the classrooms in Halligan, traditional indoor lighting systems were replaced with light tubes, which use natural sunlight for energy efficiency and vitalize windowless workspaces, according to Miller. 

Although the large-scale infrastructural changes have made significant improvements to the building, Hassoun emphasized the importance of smaller additions that promote group collaboration, like a new coffee maker that allows students to customize their choices.

“I see students and faculty just sitting there sipping coffee sometimes ... It gives them more of a chance to interact and run into each other,” she said. “You know, they talk about the water cooler effect in the industry, where people just learn about what’s going on in their workplaces by the water cooler. We’ve sort of created that in the kitchen, believe it or not. It’s the coffee machine effect.”

Sophomore Alex Daniels, a computer engineering major, said that renovations have improved his study routine. Like many other students, Daniels will sometimes arrive at Halligan in the evening and leave past sunrise the next morning.

“What keeps me motivated once it’s 5 a.m. is going to Google, typing in ‘when is the sunrise today?’” he said. “It’ll tell me, ‘6:27 in Medford.’ Well, that’s motivation to keep me going for another hour and a half.” 

While some students raved about the renovations, others said better plans for the computer labs could have been implemented. Sophomore Brian Cefali, a computer science major and a teaching assistant for COMP 40, said he would have preferred a focus on purchasing new equipment.

“The labs are basically the same, so that didn’t change too much,” Cefali said. “Giving people offices upstairs was definitely pretty nice, but

 I feel like the faculty like the renovation way more than the students do. Maybe the labs are a little bit nicer, but in the end, we do the same work on the same machines.”

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