Chadron State College
Chadron State College

Getting to Know: Information Technology

July 11, 2018

Ann Burk
Ann Burk

July 9, 2018

College Relations publishes a monthly series of news articles, features and Q&A interviews highlighting various departments on campus in an effort to assist the faculty and staff in gaining an increased awareness about and understanding of each other’s roles and responsibilities.

The July Q&A is with Ann Burk, Chief Information Officer at Chadron State College. Burk has worked in the IT department at CSC for more than 30 years.

As the Chief Information Officer of Information Technology, how do you see the role of your department?

The role of the department is to provide reliable, responsive technology resources and support services that are access focused, cost effective, and enable students and employees to successfully achieve their academic and professional goals. The level of effort of every IT employee impacts the quality of instruction provided to students by faculty, the quality of support provided to students and employees by the administrative offices, and the quality of the learning, living and work spaces across campus.

What are some of the main services IT provides students and employees?

Basic primary services that every user expects include reliable wired and wireless network connections, effective acquisition and support of classroom, office, and lab technologies, management of servers that run a variety of software and databases, administration of efficient software applications, and ensuring that we implement best practices to protect student and employee data. Providing these services in a professional and reliable manner is key to enabling students and employees to meet their goals.

How does your department stay on top of new technologies?

This process has evolved over the years. What used to require travel to conferences and meetings as well as reference to paper publications, can now be accomplished daily utilizing the Internet by attending web conferences and meetings and by reviewing online white papers provided by vendors and professional associations. Specific to IT, CSC is a member of Educause, MHEC and WCET and we leverage resources provided by these professional organizations. In addition, Microsoft provides a web based resource library through our Premier Services subscription that the IT staff tap for current publications and training. We also rely on our vendors such as Cisco to provide information on emerging technologies in specific areas.

Expertise across Nebraska is an exceptional resource to leverage and CSC collaborates with colleagues across the state to advance our environments. We are a member of a seven institution group that shares the PeopleSoft student information system and SAP Finance and Human Resources applications.  We participate in conversations around enhancements to these systems, information security initiatives, and development of authentication systems.

What are some of the challenges IT faces?

Compliance is the current challenge. We are faced with ensuring that policies and procedures adhere to information security standards, specifically NIST and PCI as expected by auditors and Board Policy. This can involve modifying the backend technical environment, adjusting user access privileges to computers and software applications, and ensuring that faculty and staff are provided current training on how to protect information technology resources.

For example, during the past year, we researched, implemented and customized SANS Information Security Training for all employees. Not only was the training complete for current employees, but we have embedded training in the on-boarding process for new employees, a requirement that must be fulfilled before the individual is provided access to any CSC technology resource. Information security is a vital and growing responsibility and we are making progress despite holding staffing and funding at current and reduced levels, respectively.

Another challenge is to continuously improve campus efficiency through the use of current or low to no-cost technology solutions. CSC uses a number of enterprise applications including PeopleSoft, SAP, Sakai and Microsoft Office 365. When IT is approached with a project proposal, we always look to our current applications first to ensure that they are used to the highest degree possible. Our staff is small and well trained on these applications, so it is important to leverage our current resources.

What has changed in your department since you began working at CSC?

As I look back on the implementation of technology across campus, advancement has been phenomenal. This has been a collaborative process that has included many individuals who have helped to champion change, implement technical solutions, provide funding, and support the development of technical skills of staff across the campus.

First, and probably most important is that Information Technology is now considered a strategic business partner rather than a reactive service unit. We hold seats on the President’s Cabinet and Executive Council, and participate in the institutional planning process with positions on the Academic Strategic Planning Committee and Master Academic Plan Committee.

The department’s structure has changed from a group of computer programmers and operators headed by a director that reported to a vice president, to a three-team structure reporting to a Chief Information Officer under the President. Designated team leads manage workload and meet regularly with the CIO to plan and prioritize, discuss project status, share challenges and resolve issues. IT team members hold a diverse set of skills, and are responsible for project and support success.

And, of course, the use of technology has changed dramatically. When I started working in what was the Computer Center in the 1980s, data entry was accomplished through the use of an IBM key punch machine and card reader. This was the process for entering grades to a mainframe program that resulted in the printing of semester grade labels which were peeled off and applied to the paper transcripts in the Registrar’s Office.

Likewise, financial transactions were punched onto cards, and the Business Manager would bring decks of cards to the basement and run them through the reader which resulted in a financial report printed on green bar paper by a large and very loud line printer. The Computer Center employed COBOL programmers responsible for developing these applications, and yes, each line of programming code was punched on a card. You didn’t dare drop your deck.

Now, of course, faculty enter the grades from any connected Internet device in any location and the student sees the result in real time. Data entry can now be accomplished by scanning QR codes with a cell phone, ID cards to gain entry into buildings, etc. and over wireless networks. 

The network has evolved from a few limited connections between dumb terminals and mainframe computers connected over silver satin cable, to dial-up modems and fax machines, to mobile enabled web pages accessible over wireless networks from cell phones.

I have seen storage technology develop from those key punch cards, to magnetic drum drives that stored a stack of platters. These were quickly replaced by 5 ¼ and 3 ½ floppy disks and on to thumb drives and server based storage. Now, we have the benefit of cloud based storage provided by our vendors, allowing us to quickly and securely store our data without the need to invest in premise based technology. Likewise, server technology has progressed from individual servers to virtual servers. In other words, our data center footprint is shrinking despite the increase in dependency and use of technology.

There are technology dependencies across all departments of the campus. Facilities monitors HVAC systems across the network, light bulbs are controlled by the electricians, emergency alerts are generated by the College Relations department and pushed out to student and employee cell phones and e-mail accounts, the panning of classroom cameras are voice activated, reference to historical documents such as academic transcripts are online, and video conferencing has replaced the dependency on travel and voice conference bridges.

What are some goals of IT?

Our department has four areas of focus: Customer Service, Operational Effectiveness, Strong Technical Infrastructure, and Sound Security Policies and Practices. Each IT team has defined priorities and under each of the priorities are defined projects. As we progress with our planning process, we tie the priorities to the Campus Master Academic Plan (MAP) and the MAP generates IT projects. One of our current priorities is to upgrade the campus network infrastructure, critical to operations and academic functions.

Another important goal is to continue to enhance our information security position. This involves progressing with the implementation of recommendations provided by an information security risk assessment conducted last year and touches nearly every technology used on campus. A current project is to extend our SANS security training program to our fall term student body. This program, referred to as Securing the Human, focuses on building awareness of information security best practices and provides tips to help individuals better protect their professional and personal identity and technology devices.

What do you like best about working at CSC?

I have been so fortunate and blessed to have a career at CSC. I’ve observed the transformation of the campus, not only technically, but also the physical plant and landscape, the capabilities of an outstanding staff, and the professional organizations and work relationships that have developed. It is truly the people that make the place.

—Alex Helmbrecht, Director of College Relations