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Thanks to a half-million dollar gift from AT&T, Utah State University freshman engineering students have access to a state-of-the-art computer lab.

The AT&T Computer Aided Instruction Student Laboratory in the engineering building was officially named Thursdayalthough students have benefited from the lab through most of this academic year.Joe Doupnik, the professor responsible for setting up the lab last fall, said now that everything is up and running, the lab is "booked solid" with students working on the computers.

Doupnik thanked AT&T representatives Thursday, saying, "We would have had no other way to fund this kind of lab. We just don't have the resources available to do it."

Bruce Bishop, dean of the College of Engineering, said the lab has allowed the college to restructure and revitalize its freshman program in computer literacy, allowing students to work more efficiently in all phases of the engineering program.

"With about 400 incoming freshmen in our program every year this will probably be our busiest lab," Bishop said. "This is clearly one of the most important gifts engineering has received in several years."

USU President Stanford Cazier reflected on how rapidly technology has changed during his tenure in higher education.

"Computers pervade everything we do now," Cazier said. "One of the frustrations we have is educating legislators as to the rapid antiquation rate our equipment has now. It used to be you could buy a piece of equipment and plan to use it for many years. Now equipment like this is nearly out of date by the time you get it unpacked, set up and get comfortable using it."

Craig Gunn, AT&T Computer Systems area manager, said while philanthropy is important to the corporation, the gift will allow AT&T to hire people who are familiar with their equipment.

"We also think university labs are excellent testing grounds for our equipment, because if anyone is going to really tax a system and push it to see just what it can do it will be a student," Gunn said.

He added that the company views the lab as a partnership with the university rather than just a gift and AT&T looks forward to an ongoing relationship with USU.