By 2007 there will be an estimated 54 million K-12 students in the United States. With current initiatives to wire schools for the Internet, these children will have ready access to virtually limitless information from all over the world. And they're going to have plenty of questions.
      David Lankes wants to make sure they get the answers. "The good news about the Internet in schools is that you have all this great real-time, multimedia information," says the School of Information Studies professor. "The bad news is you get it without instructions."
      Lankes '92, G'96, G'98 is director of Virtual Reference Desk (VRD), an ambitious project to create the foundations for a national cooperative digital reference service. Now in its second year, the project is supported by the National Library of Education and the ERIC Clearinghouse on Information and Technology.
      Digital reference, or "Ask-an-Expert" (AskA), services connect Internet users to those with specialized subject or skill expertise. The VRD project has identified more than 70 of these services, ranging from Ask a Gravity Expert to Ask the Dentist. At the VRD web site (,users can access the AskA+ Locator for information and links to services. The site also contains a "knowledge base" of answers to previous questions.
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      Lankes says education relies mostly on secondhand information found in textbooks. "What if you could have access to all those experts and all that expertise every day, whenever you need it?" he says. "If you have a question about a photograph, you can ask the photographer. If you have a question about a book, ask the author."
      Project coordinator Abby Kasowitz G'96, G'98 says the VRD project is making progress toward establishing a national question-and-answer network on the Internet. "We're really putting a lot of time and effort into helping organizations start AskA services, and helping existing services by giving them resources and tools so they can provide what people need. There's a lot involved in that." VRD is creating a standard software package for AskA services, which currently use different methods for receiving and answering questions. Some have places to post questions on their web sites; others rely on e-mail. VRD also offers a starter kit for services with how-to advice and methods drawn from existing services.
      Lankes says the project's goal is to allow any K-12 student to ask a question and get a timely answer from a qualified expert. "Instead of putting students and teachers in touch with information—in terms of web pages and 'dead trees on screens'-we want to put them in touch with knowledge."
                                                  —GARY PALLASSINO



The College of Law has run a summer externship program in Syracuse for years; this past summer it expanded to Washington, D.C. Professor Wilhelmina Reuben-Cooke and associate dean Arlene Kanter, both of whom practiced law in Washington and worked at Georgetown University Law Center, designed the program hoping to use their previous experiences to benefit students. Reuben-Cooke and Kanter believe the connections in the nation's capital are hard to match.
      Second-year student Todd Dexter was one of four participants in the new program, and found the eight-week stay rewarding. The students, who worked full time without pay, received six credits. "An opportunity like this is priceless for me in terms of experience," says Dexter, who worked for Delaware Senator Joseph Biden G'68 on the subcommittee on youth violence.
      Currently the Washington externship program offers many unique opportunities that aren't available in Syracuse. The idea, Reuben-Cooke says, was to build the program with studies in communications law, federal legislature advocacy, disability law, labor law, and civil rights—all areas in which students are frequently interested. Notes Kanter: "The goal is to have students branch out in another area so they have different experiences and make other contacts for potential jobs after graduation."
      The program's selection process requires students to complete an application in which they cite their motives for participation. "Students discuss the attributes they possess that would make them attractive to this program," Reuben-Cooke says. A placement board reviews applications, and Reuben-Cooke interviews students over the phone.
      While only 4 students worked in Washington this past summer, Rueben-Cooke and Kanter hope to expand the program to as many as 20 students.
      Second-year student Mark H. Johnson, who worked in the Contempt Litigation and Compliance Branch of the National Labor Relations Board, praised Reuben-Cooke's weekly seminars for the personal attention they provide. "The seminars were very individualized," Johnson says.
      Reuben-Cooke holds the seminars to review each student's week, bring in guest speakers, and assign readings. Both Dexter and Johnson
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were pleased with the program's offerings. "Professor Reuben-Cooke made an extreme effort to help us see what we wanted to see and do many interesting things," Johnson says.
                            —JESSICA ESEMPLARE

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