University computer labs have changed a lot since the 1990’s. Now that most students have their own computer, they no longer need to go to a shared bank of desktops to write a paper, check email, or use this crazy new thing called the “world wide web.” But, students and teachers still need uniform workstations for courses on programming and systems, access to specialized software for design, data analysis, and graphics, and tutors that can help with complicated computational projects.
The Computer Science Instructional Laboratory (CSIL) has evolved through all of these eras, meeting the needs of the CS department and students across UChicago campus. Since its pioneering move to the John Crerar Library building in 2013 (five years before the rest of the department), CSIL has expanded both in size and focus. This year, the laboratory also boasts new leadership, as Cosmos Boekell assumes the director position two decades after working in CSIL as a tutor in the late ‘90s.
Boekell takes over from Bill Sterner, who directed CSIL for nearly 25 years before his retirement at the end of the 2018-19 school year. It was Sterner who first hired Boekell, an alumnus of UChicago who studied anthropology as an undergraduate, as a tutor at the original CSIL in Ryerson, when it was informally known as the “Mac Lab.” After two years with the laboratory, Boekell moved to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, serving as a System Administrator and Manager until returning to UChicago this summer.
Today, CSIL features five labs, two macOS and three Linux laboratories, each with 20 student workstations and one teacher station, as well as additional desktops for small groups and individuals to reserve, scanners, video equipment, and lendable accessories. The lab is also now part of the Media Arts, Data, and Design (MADD) Center on the first floor of Crerar, sharing space with the Weston Game Lab, the Hack Arts Lab, and facilities for GIS, virtual reality, and data visualization.
The larger space and new neighbors have inspired Boekell’s vision for the future of CSIL and how it serves its users. Recently, the facility has hosted coding tutorials for high school students, and expanded its software roster to include programs that support artistic work in the other MADD Center units.
“CSIL is part of the CS department and our priority is first and foremost to the CS department student and faculty curricula,” Boekell said. “But I do want to make it clear that we are a resource for the whole community at large, both at UChicago and even the broader Chicago community, with programs like ProjectCSGIRLS and other UChicago outreach programs.”