Bowdoin is set to get a technological makeover. The installation of a new student information system will allow students to register for courses online for the first time ever. Members of the Board of Trustees and President Barry Mills approved the purchase of the new information system, called Banner, at a May trustee meeting.
Bowdoin signed a contract with SunGuard, the company that owns Banner, in June, and purchased the software over the summer.
The new system will replace the Bearings website and streamline information that is currently scattered across various Bowdoin servers.
"It does what Bearings does, but a whole lot more," said Associate Professor of Psychology Suzanne Lovett, the faculty liaison for advising. "Down the road, it will allow us in one place to have a lot of information about you."
In addition to allowing for online course registration, Banner will enable students to register for courses online and track their progress in completing requirements specific to a particular major or minor.
The Office of Admissions will also use Banner for online application reading, and applicants to the College will be able to track the components of the materials they submit as well as access the office's final decision on their application.
The introduction of a new system has been a long time coming.
The College has looked to replace its student information system since 2007, but postponed the project due to the financial crisis and limited funds.
According to Abbie Brown, Information Technology's director of project management, and the project manager of the Banner implementation, a project of this scope costs the College “a few million dollars.”
The price also went up when the admissions office decided to convert its system to Banner.
When asked if she thought Bowdoin was playing catch-up, Brown said, "It would have been great to do a few years ago, but I'm pleased because of where Banner is right now and we wouldn't have been able to implement it in 2007."
Steve Blanc, IT security officer and systems consultant, said that none of Bowdoin's material would be stored in a data cloud.
"Everything is located in our secure data centers," he said.
"The security is controlled right here. We don't have third parties involved so the issues you come into with the cloud where you're depending upon Google to provide certain levels of security for you...we're not dependent upon them," Blanc added.
By choosing to keep all student information on campus servers, the College reduces the risk of a security breach.
For example, in July of 2005 a violation of Yale University's technology exposed the personal information of 43,000 community members.
IT Systems Engineer Chris Waltham said that the security of any new system depends on "the quality of the implementation."
President Barry Mills alluded to a technological coming-of-age in his August 31 Convocation address.
"Today, you can use an app to find out what's for lunch at Thorne Hall or Moulton Union, and Eric Chown is even teaching a course on building these apps," he said. "And soon, coming to a college very near you, a new student information system called 'Banner' will allow online course registration and all sorts of other features, bringing Bowdoin into the modern age."
Bowdoin is the only remaining NESCAC school to do paper and pencil course registration.
"If we really want to be carbon neutral by 2020, it's definitely a necessary step," said Cailey Oehler '15. "For Bowdoin to continue to be seen as a progressive school, it's also necessary."
However, implementation will take time.
The planned date for the site to go live is December 12, 2012—or 12/12/12. IT's goal is that students will be able to register online for fall of 2013 courses.
Setbacks may occur during the installation and phases for the changeover may take longer than expected.
"I think the biggest challenge will be meeting expectations," said Brown. "And making sure people know exactly what we can deliver by when—it's not going to be everything at once."
When the time does come for Banner to go live, Lovett said, "It really is going to touch everybody. It will change how we do things. And the goal is not to just make things easier, but to make things better."
Editors' Note: A previous version of this article stated that Abbie Brown estimated the cost of Banner to be $7 million. In fact, Brown estimated that the project would cost “a couple million dollars.” The Orient regrets the error.