The Perfect Graduation Gift Almost One-Third of Oneida's Seniors to Receive Four-Year Scholarships

Although he stands in front of the classroom at Tennessee Technological University, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering Jeff Frolik can only see half of his class.

Because, well, the other half of the class is seated in a classroom hundreds of miles away at the University of South Florida in Tampa.

The USF students can see his work and what he is discussing thanks to "NetMeeting," an Internet conferencing program that enables one person to share applications, voice and video with another person in an entirely different city, state or country Ð all with just a PC, internet connection and a simple Webcam, a mini-video camera that connects to the computer.

"NetMeeting is not only is it cheap Ð actually free -- but it has been a way for us to have control over the technology and not have to depend on others to coordinate the TTU-USF link," explained Frolik.

While distance learning is part of TTU's regular curriculum and continues to grow, Frolik and his class, with Dr. Tom Weller at USF, are the first in Tennessee Tech's Engineering Department to venture into building and constructing a project with team members from out-of-state Ð a wireless sensor that can be used to, for example, count cars.COOKEVILLE, Tenn. (May 3, 2000) -- On graduation day at Oneida High School, 68 graduates will walk across the stage -- 20 of them will walk into opportunities they never imagined.

Almost a third of the class will receive four-year scholarships to Tennessee Technological University established in the name of the late Scott County educator Horace M. "Jake" Jeffers and funded by his daughter, Oneida native Judy Jeffers-Davis and her husband, Jerry W. Davis. For Oneida, a close knit town of about 5,000 located 65 miles northwest of Knoxville, the scholarships have the potential to affect every community member.

Beginning with the Class of 2000, each year the Horace M. Jeffers Scholars Fund will provide 20 four-year scholarships of $4,000 annually to Oneida graduates. By 2003, 80 students will be Jeffers Scholars at Tennessee Tech.

Jeffers-Davis hopes the scholarships feed the same fire in Oneida students that she saw in her father, an educator, guidance counselor, administrator and coach in Scott County for more than 40 years.

"My father had such a desire for education, such a love for students and such an awareness of the value of people creating choices for themselves through education," said Jeffers-Davis, who graduated from TTU and now lives in Jacksonville, Fla. "He went to school literally not knowing how he would pay for it because he believed in value of learning."

Why present such a big gift to so many people in this rural community?

"You know people's needs when you are raised in a small town," said Jeffers- Davis. "You know many talented kids don't even think they're in line to move toward college and other opportunities. If these scholarships give them hope and vision, they will do the rest."

Oneida High School Principal Rick Harper says Oneida High School and its companion pre-school and elementary schools in the Oneida Special School District have already established a reputation for making the most of opportunities. He calls the system a "Top 10" system in the state, boasting the 8th highest average ACT scores.

"This investment in education will have long-term effects on this community and the renaissance we're experiencing," said Harper. "These scholarships will create opportunities and change the mindsets of students who see limited choices.

"We've become an excellent school system because we've challenged our students," said Harper. "Now we can offer incentives not only to the top few students, but to 20 more students who may never have felt they had a chance to over come financial and other obstacles."

Recipients must have grown up and be a native of Scott County plus attend four years and graduate from Oneida High School. Academically, they must meet TTU's entrance requirements and qualify for financial aid. As long as a student stays in good standing at the university, the scholarship is renewable each year, making the total available aid $16,000 per student.

Harper and Jeffers-Davis plan to organize information sessions for eighth graders in the school system so students will develop an early vision of how these scholarships can change their lives. Students will receive annual progress reports, guidance and encouragement.

"We see so many discouraging, worldly things attacking our children and communities, " Jeffers-Davis said. "This is hope."

In 1994, Jeffers-Davis established the Horace M. Jeffers Memorial Scholarship that has been awarded annually to a graduate of Oneida City Schools. The $7,600 annual scholarship covers tuition, room and board and incidentals.

--Karen Lykins

"Our system was co-developed by students at both universities," Frolik said. "TTU is primarily responsible for the wireless link while USF is primarily responsible for the sensor. Teams then must collaborate via email or WebBoard (a Web page devoted solely to these students and this specific project) or other ways to ensure that the systems work together."

With just the Webcam, TTU and USF students learn "alongside" each other in the most cheapest and simplest of ways with few problems, Frolik said.

"South Florida had been looking at Internet streaming (in which sound and video is transmitted over the computer like a radio), but we found it wasn't very feasible because there was a 20-second delay," said Frolik.

"But with the NetMeeting, power point slides everything can be seen quite clearly and the audio delay, while not noticeable, is not detrimental. However, sometimes, when the Web is very busy, the audio and video can be broken up a bit."

Once a week, TTU and USF students joined together across the Internet in learning about microwave systems and wireless sensors as part of a project to design and build a sensor system that will count cars to be used for traffic control. After drawing up designs, building circuit boards and antennas, the teams from TTU and USFwould then package up their work and send it to the other site for additional work.

"I have particular interests in communication systems, which nobody at South Florida does, and Tom Weller, whom I've worked with in the past, has a strong background in microwave devices that is not available at Tennessee Tech," Frolik said. "And using the Internet in this way is a good way to trickle our joint research collaboration to undergraduates."

"The students seem to really like being exposed to new subject matter in this way. This is just one way to get expertise to TTU not presently available, and vice versa."

While the Webcam has become a part of pop culture these days, with scores of people broadcasting their daily lives onto the Internet or sending live pictures to family members far away, TTU and the USF find using the Webcam and NetMeeting a cheap and reliable way to relay educational information that will help students after they graduate and find engineering jobs.

"By using this technology, we are teaching students how to work in teams with people at remote locations," said Frolik. "What we are doing here is a very realistic scenario in the work force."