Logging on to learn

A social networking Web site created by a USF graduate student unites members with a common goal: gaining and sharing knowledge.

An intricate network of students and professors engaging in intellectual conversations about anything from rocket science to health care was the vision of USF student Milton Bertrand.

Bertrand, a biomedical sciences graduate and now a chemical engineering student, is the creator of the academic social networking site, geazle.com. It launched nearly a month ago and fulfills Bertrand’s longing for a more serious online community, unlike Facebook or MySpace.

“Geazle is a place for people of all ages and interests who simply want to gain knowledge,” Bertrand said.

Users of the Web site, or “Geazlers” as Bertrand calls them, can post links, write blogs and engage in debates on the message board, as well as upload a variety of content, including pictures, audio and video.

The site emphasizes the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) subjects, which Bertrand feels are important in most aspects of everyday life.

“Even if I was not an engineering major, I would still want to know why my roof leaks or why my car won’t start,” he said. “Science is just the best way to understand the world around you.”

However, Bertrand hopes to have Geazlers from all fields.

About a year ago, Bertrand logged on to Facebook, MySpace and other social networking sites to see how engineering students were utilizing them.

Bertrand said he found that they contained little conversation outside of students’ social lives. This inspired him to create his own site, where he and friends could talk about common interests that had more meaning.

“Social networks are tools with such great educational potential,” Bertrand said. “I knew if I didn’t make an attempt at this kind of site, it would end up haunting me.”

The Geazle home page displays scientific articles and images through a slide show, as well as a snapshot of the USF Tampa campus. Once a Geazler logs in, the site resembles a Facebook page, including various tabs to browse content and an instant message window in the lower right-hand corner of the screen.

Users can also update their “status” and see who has logged on and what debates are going on at different blogs.

Bertrand, the site’s administrator, takes measures to ensure Geazle maintains its identity as an academic network. These include only allowing appropriate profile pictures, as well as content that is not harmful or deviant of the Geazler’s main goal: gaining and promoting knowledge.

Bertrand also has plans for the site that stem far beyond making a quick buck.

In his efforts to promote Geazle, Bertrand said he is not seeking finances. He has already sought the help of the University – reaching out to President Judy Genshaft as well as professors and staff.

Bertrand said he hopes his site might one day facilitate communication between professors and students, as well as help them establish study groups and conversations.

One of Geazle’s most avid users, Ricardo Nordvik, a graduate of fine arts who is pursuing a degree in mechanical engineering, likes it better than other social networking sites because of its lack of distractions.

“There’s none of the silly, meaningless glitter you see on MySpace pages or gossip- like chatter on the walls on Facebook,” he said. “Geazle is geared for those people that enjoy having an intellectual discussion about academic subjects and the world we live in.”

Nordvik is one of the site’s most frequent bloggers, posting topics ranging from extraterrestrial life to President Barack Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize.

“Geazle is a great place to express the knowledge I have accumulated over time, get feedback from others who have their own knowledge base and have an intelligent discussion,” he said.

Another Geazler, USF graduate Fritz Ministre, utilizes the site in the professional world.

“I use it to network with other engineering professionals and learn from them,” he said.

Ministre is a chemical engineer for Waste Management. He said choosing to pursue knowledge in a social network offers a great alternative to the typical social networking site.

“It’s very innovative to take the popularity and widespread use of the social networking platform and apply it to science and technology,” he said. “This kind of thinking can go a long way in solving the social and economic problems of our country.”

Already, the Geazle community has branched out, with members from Florida State University to people from Nigeria and the U.K.

Dr. Divina Gallon is a Geazler from Atlanta, Ga. She works at Caduceus Occupational Medicine as a physician.

“The part that I really like about it is the ability to post your own research or your own work and being able to get feedback on it,” Gallon said. “Being that the USF area is one with many medical professionals as well as students pursuing medicine, I think it’s great that Geazle offers them a way to network professionally.”

Bertrand said he does not intend to compete with Facebook, MySpace and other sites.

“Visiting a Web site is like going inside a building,” he said. “Facebook and MySpace are like the Marshall Center, whereas Geazle is more like the Library – both are buildings but you go there for different reasons … I only hope that others will visit the site to share what they know and to seek out what they do not know – that is the definition of a Geazler.”

For more information, log on to geazle.com.