This article is from the archives of the UB Reporter.

What's in your technology survival kit?

Published: August 28, 2003

Reporter Assistant Editor

UB has gained a reputation for being one of the most wired universities in the country and not just for the ease with which students are able to connect to the Web.

For the past five years, students also have received the award-winning Tech Tools, a technology survival kit in the form of a compact disc that provides all of the UB required software they will need during their studies at UB.


The Tech Tools project is part of iConnect@UB, the university's universal student-access program, which encompasses a wide variety of IT services focused on a student customer-centered approach.

In addition to Tech Tools, students this year will receive UB Blaster, a new testing and remediation tool that can be used to check computers for possible virus or worm infection. It targets the most recent worms and viruses that have received attention in the national news and have impacted some computers on campus.

The Tech Tools CD is crucial for students because faculty members have come to expect students to access course materials, participate in class discussions and do research via the Web, as well as a perform a host of other online tasks that will define a good part of students' education at the university, says Rick Lesniak, director of academic services for CIT.

When students begin the simple installation process outlined on the Tech Tools CD, they quickly are equipped with the tools that their assignments demand, whether they're searching for online data, using email for a classroom listserv discussion, writing papers or crunching numbers, explains Lesniak. All incoming students—freshmen, graduate students and transfers—have received a 2003 version of the CD. That's about 13,000-14,000 CDs to be distributed this year alone. Faculty and staff also will receive copies of the software, with regular updates and downloads available online at for those who have received past issues of the CD.

Securing a level technology playing field for all UB students was the primary motivation for creating Tech Tools, says Lesniak. And, he notes, while the software is freely distributed, it isn't free.

"None of this software is free—people are paying for it. The technology fee, which is part of students' overall comprehensive fee, is paying for it and it's fully licensed and legal and a return on that technology investment to students," he notes. Every student pays a technology fee, which is used to pay for networking and labs, software, classroom technology, spam filters, IT improvements, the Ublearns Blackboard learning system and a myriad of other IT services and programs, he says.

"What they're getting is well-supported, standardized software," he adds. In creating Tech Tools, software standards are set for an entire academic year, with continuous updates available throughout the year reflecting the hardware and operating system standards commonly used by faculty and students.

"Students are getting a reasonable return on their (technology fee) investment—it's something tangible they can hold in their hands," he says.


Some of the software included on the CD includes Acrobat Reader; Internet Explorer; Netscape; Norton Antivirus; Shockwave with Flash Player; Mulberry, a campus-based email software program, and computer security-related software. The most heavily installed software packages on the CD are plugins, email, UBVPN and Norton Antivirus, points out Lesniak.

UB Blaster will be distributed through the same channels as Tech Tools and will be available through UB Micro, a campus-based computing store.

"UB Blaster can determine if your particular system has been affected and the remediation tool features instructions that need to be carefully followed," he says.

It's a situation, he adds, that's likely to become worse, with hackers aiming their attacks primarily at Microsoft operating systems.

The security-enhanced software offered on Tech Tools provides protected methods to connect to the university's network. In technical terms, says Lesniak, "it's a way to use off-campus methods to connect to UB in a way that you're secure and it looks like you're on campus. You can think about it as a secure tunnel between your home and UB. It's impervious to people looking into what you're doing, while campus restricted resources are available to you in your home."

Unlike other similar tools offered at universities, Tech Tools has also become a showcase for UB and a marketing tool used by admissions and the wider university in recruitment efforts, explains says Lesniak. "It's tied into university programs that use it as a promotional tool for our technology advantage. It's a persuasive tool and I don't see that at other universities."

Lesniak calls comparable technology tools at other universities "pretty geeky. This isn't geeky, it's designed to be simple and smooth," he says.

The relatively cheap cost of producing Tech Tools—about $40,000—is primarily because it's produced in-house at UB by a team of professional programmers, designers, documentation writers and technical experts that includes input from faculty and students.

"There is also a survey that we do so we can keep track of student perceptions, how they use it, what they think about it," says Lesniak. This year, a student can win a digital camera just by filling out the survey featured on the 2003 edition of Tech Tools.

The project team also conducts usability tests with students to make improvements or add or drop software according to their needs. The Tech Tools project has been recognized with three Service Excellence Awards, as well as a peer review award from the Association for Computing Machinery, a national organization committed to advancing the skills of information technology professionals and students worldwide.