Scout Reporter

Many people have seen the work of InterLabs members--they just might not have realized it.

If you've looked at Web pages for groups such as Bradley athletics, the Smith Career Center or the sociology department; experienced the college radio station WRBU on the web; or even taken an informal class on HTML in the organization's home base, Bradley 125, then you've been exposed to InterLabs.

Even so, many people are still wondering just what InterLabs is.

Its mission statement explains that "InterLabs is an academic interdisciplinary organization of faculty and students committed to innovation, training and cutting-edge projects using the latest Web technologies."

According to Leo Salamini, who chairs the sociology department and is director of InterLabs, the primary tasks of InterLabs are research and development of new web tools; training students, faculty, staff and community organizations in new technologies; and undertaking various projects, for both Bradley and the community.

He said members of InterLabs are "bright, creative students" who "enjoy learning on their own and from each other.

"Sometimes I think they know more than (faculty members)," Salamini said.

InterLabs was founded in 1995 by Jim Brazell, who had started a model for InterLabs at a high school in Issaquah, Wash., a suburb of Seattle.

Brazell wrote a paper that spurred a meeting with 13 faculty from eight disciplines.

He said his intent was to form student-run labs that were open to all majors. The intended result was interdisciplinary collaboration, which was unique because traditionally, separate budgets keep the disciplines separate.

In 1996 the university gave InterLabs a $24,000 grant, which bought eight computers, a server and a scanner, according to Salamini.

Salamini said students continue to perform the essential functions of the lab. This has yielded several projects for Bradley and the community.

One example is Lyceum, which is named for the place where Aristotle orginally taught, and means "high school" in some languages, according to the project's creator, Steve Stearns.

Lyceum is an online virtual classroom where "anyone in the world can teach anyone else," Stearns said. A person wishing to teach can create a "classroom" with new groups or chatrooms.

An attractive aspect of Lyceum is that there is no charge to use the network. Already there are more than 800 registered users, Stearns said.

One long-term service to the community that InterLabs performed was for Hult Health Center. This project involved teaching several elementary and secondary students how to use the Internet, how to create Web pages and even how to use 3-D graphics. The students were then able to research and create Web documents on their own.

Teaching people is one of InterLabs' regular practices, occurring both formally with workshops and informally as it naturally occurs.

"One of the best things we experience is teaching people about the Internet," said member Ken Ambrose. "It is one thing to know, another thing to teach."

In the process, InterLabs members try to demystify computers.

"We help people understand computers, not just use them," said junior Karryn Matthews. She said that spreading knowledge is one of the group's main goals.

"We show people that 'this is how it works,' it's not just magic," senior Glenn Powers said.

The rewards of being involved in InterLabs can extend beyond personal satisfaction.

"It's a good way to get a job," Powers said.

One example is Lyceum creator Stearns, an InterLabs member who now works for Cyberdesic, the company founded by Brazell (see related story).

According to Salamini, cases like this aren't uncommon. He said many former InterLabs members go on to work for major companies or start ones of their own.

So how do most people join?

Word of mouth, according to Matthews.

"If you have a project to get done, InterLabs is a good place to come do it," Powers said.

Those interested in joining InterLabs can contact Salamini at x2388.