Georgia Gwinnett students respond to tragic shootings

LAWRENCEVILLE - When some Georgia Gwinnett College students heard of the tragic shooting last week at Virginia Tech, they knew they wanted to express their sympathies.

They just didn't immediately know how.

The school is in its first year of operation, so students can't lean on traditions. As the school grows, Georgia Gwinnett's first class is creating traditions for future students.

One hope the students have is that Georgia Gwinnett will embrace the concept of supporting others, said Andrea Ide, a psychology major and member of the Student Government Association formation committee.

The SGA formation committee decided to write a letter to Virginia Tech's student government to express its sympathies, Ide said. The committee also encouraged students and faculty to participate in the national day of mourning Friday by wearing maroon and orange, she said.

"It's just kind of the right thing to do as human beings ... to help others when they are in a time of need," Ide said.

Ide said there has been some discussion in class of the Virginia Tech shootings. There have been reports of several colleges discussing how to notify the campus if an emergency were to take place on school grounds, but Ide said some technology the Georgia Gwinnett College uses makes it easy for students to instantly receive e-mails as text messages on their cell phones.

Although Georgia Gwinnett does send e-mails to communicate with students and faculty, Lonnie Harvel, the college's vice president of educational technology, said it's a misconception that one single technology can alert an entire campus in an emergency.

"People have different ways of communicating, and there are multiple methods of communication that are fairly widespread and almost standard in the University System of Georgia," Harvel said.

To receive an e-mail or a text message, students and faculty take action to check for the messages. And there are many social and environmental factors that can prevent people from receiving the messages, such as silencing a cell phone while on campus, Harvel said.

If an emergency caused Georgia Gwinnett to cancel classes, Harvel said the message would be sent out in several ways - e-mails, text messages, a Web site post and telephone calls.

"We'd reach the largest percentage of the population and hope others find out" from those who received the notification, Harvel said.

Georgia Gwinnett has partnered with Rave Wireless and Sprint in a program that will allow cell phones to be used as tools in the classroom. With the phones, students will be able to answer surveys in class, send a private message to faculty members or classmates, or view class materials or online discussions.

The partnership, announced earlier this year, will allow any student who owns a cell phone with text-messaging capabilities to participate in any mandatory assignments.

Students will also have the option of purchasing a data plan from Sprint that will allow them to access features such as Global Positioning System. Harvel said the GPS option can be used as a safety feature, as it will be equipped to send a panic message to campus security with the user's location.

Georgia Gwinnett will also focus on training people to use technology that can be helpful in case of an emergency.

"When there is a concern is not the moment in time when you need to be figuring out how to use the technology," Harvel said. "No one ever wants something like (the Virginia Tech tragedy) to happen on their campus, but everyone has to be prepared for it."