CIO Roundtable – HBCUs COVID-19 Response

Roundtable Guests

David Alexander, Chief Information Officer, Shaw University

Tom Jackson, Vice Chancellor Information Technology, North Carolina State University

John Norris, Dean of Academic Support Services, Johnson C. Smith University

John Norris has 20 years of higher education experience in information technology and information systems management.  He currently serves as the Dean of Academic Support Services where he oversees the management of library services, the office of the registrar and office of institutional research. John is also the Director of Information Technology where he oversees the management of information technology services. He serves as a key advisor to senior administrators on strategies and initiatives to support student learning, service delivery and workplace efficiencies.    

Prior to joining JCSU, John served in various IT roles including systems analyst, business impact analyst, software trainer and network administrator. John Norris has an M.B.A. from Winthrop University and a B.S. in Computer Science from Johnson C. Smith University. 

Roundtable Host

Jerri Bland, Ed.D. is managing director and virtual CIO for Cloud CIO, LLC. Jerri previously served as the Deputy Chief Information Officer for Columbia University and Assistant Vice Chancellor for Enterprise Applications for The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. After 20 years implementing enterprise level application and business process technology for government agencies and higher education institutions, Jerri refocused her talents to supporting the growth of technology capacity at minority-serving institutions. Jerri believes that a positive connection between people, processes, and technology is a pivotal component of success for any business. Jerri is a project management professional (PMP) and a Six Sigma Green Belt.

Jerri has a bachelor’s degree from the University of New Orleans, a master of public administration from The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and a doctorate in higher education administration from The George Washington University. Jerri enjoys ringing handbells in her free time and serves as a board member for Carolina Performing Arts.


Jerri Bland: [00:00:00] Hello and welcome to the CIO Roundtable where technology leaders come to talk and share with each other about the IT universe. My name is Jerri Bland with Cloud CIO and I’m pleased to have three leaders join me at the table today. How are you all doing today?

David Alexander: [00:00:20] Good. Doing well.   

Jerri Bland: [00:00:21] Great. Nice to hear it. Each of our guests leads the technology division at a Historically Black College or University in our home state of North Carolina.

Let’s have them introduce themselves. David.

David Alexander: [00:00:34] All right. So I’m David Alexander and I’m the CIO at Shaw University. Um, we’re located in Raleigh, North Carolina. Uh, I’ve got about 1500 students and, uh. Yeah. Three to 400 faculty and staff, depending on how you count. Um, all our adjuncts, that sort of thing. And, uh, yeah, just happy to be here.

John Norris: [00:00:53] And hello, I’m John Norris. I am, uh, my title is Dean of Academic Support Services, but in that role, I am the IT Director, CIO person for Johnson C Smith University. Johnson C Smith is a small private liberal arts HBCU in Charlotte, North Carolina. We also have about 1500 students and about 250 to 275 faculty and staff members that we try to service.

And again, nice to talk to you all today.

Tom Jackson: [00:01:28] Good afternoon. My name is Tom Jackson. I’m Vice Chancellor Information Technology at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University. Uh, NC A and T is the largest HBCU in the country. We have a population of just over 12,000 students, uh, nearly 800 hundred faculty, um, and another 1200 or so employees. Uh, we are a land grant university and we are a doctoral higher research university. Uh, North Carolina A and T has the third largest research budget in the university of North Carolina system, and we are the largest producer of African American engineers and CPAs in the country.

Jerri Bland: [00:02:16] Great, thank you. It’s nice to have you all at the Roundtable today. Well, today is April 23rd and that means we’ve been in this, what would some people are calling our new reality for 30 to 45 days. Um, you know, COVID-19 is running its course. The pandemic is running its course.

And I know none of us thought we would ever be in a situation like this. Tell us a little bit about how your campus and your department is handling this new reality that we’re in; students are at home, faculty at home, staff are at home, and trying to run a university.

David Alexander: [00:02:57] Well, there are a couple of things that, um, at Shaw, you know, we’re, we’re dealing with, you know, having everybody, um, go from kind of no working remote policy to everybody working remote, um, overnight, right? So there’s a whole bunch of change that’s going on with that. Um, we sent all the students home.

And there’s a whole bunch of challenges with that. There’s whole bunch of, um, issues with the students that can’t go home. Uh, they’re international students and those sort of things. So how do we provide, um, housing solutions? Um, how do we accommodate all these students that had planned to be with us throughout the rest of the semester?

Um. And so there’s a whole bunch of stuff there that we’re kind of working through and, um, you know, just trying to transition everything from a kind of the traditional model of everybody coming into work and everybody working on site to, nobody’s coming into work unless you absolutely have to. Uh, it’s just a very drastic shift to make on a very, um, quick timeline.

Uh, so there’s a lot of things we’ve had to ramp up, uh, in order to accommodate this new reality.

John Norris: [00:04:06] Okay. I think, I think what David said probably is happening to all of us. It makes a lot of sense. I think the thing about it is we, we feel like we’re always pretty prepared to do most of what we do, no matter what the circumstances are. But to have to change midstream, you have to change and go in at halftime and change, uh, pretty much the field change the way we’re going to play the game, change what we’re going to do on a daily basis.

That that really kind of made it tough. And, uh, there was no blueprint out there to say, okay, these are all the things you need to do. These are the things you need to plan for so that you make sure that not only your students and your faculty, but also the business of the university still gets done. And we often times have people who do these kind of onesie-twosie scenarios and they all claim, aw yeah, we know how to do that.

We’re good with that. Oh, no problem. I’ve been doing VPN for years, but when the rubber meets the road in a situation like this, you really find out who’s been really paying attention and who’s really following sound practices and policies. And another thing that kind of crept up is we realize at JCSU how many policies we don’t have, or our staff members are really not familiar with.

Some new policies had to be created and a few slaps on the risk had to be done to say, nah, we don’t do that. That’s the reason why you’re not allowed to do that, because you know in times like this there are a lot of it savvy folks out there, uh, and they just want to do any and everything to make it easy for them.

But overall, the university had a lot of planning going on and we took some time, kind of took a breath. Uh, we kind of like a lot of universities, extended the students’ spring break. And for the students, you know, it was extended spring break but for the folks doing the work in the background it was a lot of work, heavy lifting, getting done during that timeframe.

And we needed it badly at JCSU to make sure we, uh, tried to think of most scenarios and address as many issues as we could.

Tom Jackson: [00:06:21] I would echo my colleagues’ comments. It was a big transition, especially for our faculty and our students. In addition to having some students who are from other countries who had to remain, A and T also has a number of students from rural areas around the country.  They do not have broadband access. In some cases, they did not have a laptop or computer at home to work with. 

So in addition to moving our instructional line, um, we had to try to provision access for those where we could, and we’ve been fortunate to be able to acquire some laptops and loan them to some of our students and provide some hot spots for employees. In a couple of cases, we’ve worked with a local service provider to set up access for students where it was available.

Um. I think it was a big transition for a lot of our faculty to make. And so our instructional technology support team had to do a great deal of work to provide some very quick training for faculty that help them get started. Um, but overall, um, I think we’ve done remarkably well in mentioning the transition.

Jerri Bland: [00:07:48] Okay. David or John do. Do you either of your campuses have a laptop policy or are you struggling with some of the same issues with access and devices that Tom’s identified.

David Alexander: [00:08:01] You know we certainly faced a lot of the same challenges. Um, and we were scrambling trying to get machines, to people and get access to people.

Um, some of the things that we were running into was, you know, we could try to get computers to people. We actually weren’t able to get our hands on laptops because, you know, all of a sudden everybody’s sold out every laptop everywhere cause everybody’s got the same issue all around the world. Um, we were able to get some desktops.

Uh, and we, we sent a lot of those out to students.

John Norris: [00:08:31] Um,

David Alexander: [00:08:31] and so, you know, hustling and trying to get these things out there. Um, but the internet connectivity challenge, uh, you know, we’ve got some students in rural areas that they don’t really have access to a good internet connection, whether that’s through the traditional, you know, the telephone company or the cable company, or, um, you know cellular service. There’s just no coverage. Um, and so those situations are kind of hard to, you know, it’s a tough nut to crack. How do you, how do you solve that issue? You can send them a computer, but they can’t get online. It’s not going to do them a whole lot of good. Um, so yeah, absolutely. Uh, and the same thing with our, uh, a lot of our staff and the faculty too, you know, they’re not, you know, they’re kind of used to having the computer in the office and everything else.

Um, they’re having computer labs the students can go to, they, they may not have all the technology. Um, and so to have to acquire that overnight. Uh, has been a challenge for sure.

John Norris: [00:09:25] Uh, yes. Uh, Jerri, to answer your question about do we have a, uh, laptop program. Currently we do not. We did have a laptop program for a number of years.

A few years ago we switched to an iPad distribution program. But really the iPad is designed to supplement textbooks. It’s not really designed to be a device where they create a lot of content. So even though they have these devices, it still doesn’t replace them having a laptop or desktop device. We were fortunate because we kind of created that atmosphere.

Most of our students do own or bring a laptop device with them to the campus. Um, so at present we only had to issue out a handful of devices to students, um, now. This first phase really in my mind, was all about making people feel comfortable, you know, with this new way of online instruction. We’ll see later on about the quality of that instruction because I have a sneaky suspicion that the iPad is not really viable for tons of disciplines or maybe not tons but a number of disciplines out there, and we’re essentially asking our students to, and our faculty to figure out how to make this work using the iPad, which they didn’t do when they were on ground. I think of a class like computer engineering, that’s oftentimes pretty rough and it takes a lot of processing power.

What we’re asking them to do this with their iPads where possible. And the other thing that both the guys mentioned was about access at home. The other thing I think that caught us off guard was even when families have access, now it’s competing within their own families. The mom and dad have to do work from home.

The fifth grader has to be on the computer at two o’clock and the kindergarten has to be on at nine thirty so even once inside of a home, people are competing for the same resources and whatnot. And in my house, I just had to break down and tell my wife to stay in that room; you can have the office. She’s spread all over the place and trying to do everything she can, and I just got this little corner, as you can see. But it’s working at this point but I don’t know if our students have that option and that opportunity because many of them are, again, going back home to where the resources are now being shared.

Tom Jackson: [00:11:56] It’s not just students from rural communities who face a lack of broadband access. Um, um, the Guilford County school system has some students from  Eastern Greensboro where Carolina A and T is located that don’t have broadband access at home either. And so they, they’ve, uh, they implemented some wireless networks in parking lots at some of their schools to allow students to drive the campus and access their network from their cars. Carolina A and T is partnering with them in that endeavor. But it’s an issue that affects not just rural communities, but also urban communities.

John Norris: [00:12:38] Yeah, that’s true.

David Alexander: [00:12:39] That’s a creative solution though.  Put the, get it in the parking lot and drive in and get your internet that way, however, you gotta do it.

John Norris: [00:12:48] Yeah, and I did assume when we first made this decision, I assumed that Starbucks and McDonald’s and places like that would still be open. And I actually told a couple of students, hey, just go down to the local coffee shop to the Starbucks. You’ll be able to get online there. And I think Charter or Spectrum offered a free or, um, enhanced wireless access from public locations.

And when that came down from the governor that many of those places would be closed as well, you know, I had to take a pause, take a step back and say uh oh, my instructions may not be that applicable anymore.

Jerri Bland: [00:13:30] That’s interesting, you know, to give somebody advice, but then, but that’s no longer a route that they can use for being, again, in this new reality of what used to be the norm is no longer the norm.

John Norris: [00:13:44] Correct.

Jerri Bland: [00:13:45] And trying to figure this out. So, you know, over these last 35 days, what’s been most surprising to you as, as the technology leader on your campus as to what has transpired and how are you dealing with that?

John Norris: [00:14:05] I’ll jump in and start here on this one. Most surprising is actually a positive thing. Um, I was really surprised and hopefully most of them don’t watch this, but I was really surprised at how our faculty really turned the switch and made the adoption pretty seamlessly.

Um, the faculty that I have a lot of interaction with, who really understand technology a little bit, they jumped right in and were like, oh yeah, I got this. This is what we do anyway, or I already have parts of my classes online and I already know the students that are going to struggle with this that are in my classes.

And the faculty that, you know, tend to struggle with simple things like taking attendance or, or keeping track of students, they’re the same faculty. and, uh, it’s been a, not a difference there, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised that my phone hadn’t been ringing off the hook with faculty just telling me that, you know, this was an impossible task, too much lift to do.

Um, so that’s been pretty, pretty good. The other thing that I think that kind of, uh, surprised me was how people were able to, uh, figure out how to use VPN, uh, when, when the, when the choice became between user VPN or driving back to campus to get something done, when that’s allowed, they really figured out how to use VPN pretty quickly.

And VPN as a concept. It’s kind of difficult for a lot of people who don’t use technology a lot to figure out because you know, that just doesn’t, intuitively it doesn’t always make a lot of sense. So those things have been a surprise to me. I think we have enough staff that we’ve been able to help people, you know, in a lot of times, in one-on-one situations.

And of course, ah, more people that used to and accustomed to using Zoom and those types of systems that that made it a lot easier.

Tom Jackson: [00:16:05] I would agree. Um, the only real surprise for me has been how quickly we were able to move. Uh, our faculty made the transition fairly seamless and we’ve been assessing how well faculty are doing and how well instruction is occurring.

And we’ve gotten some feedback from some students that do not like the remote and don’t feel it’s the same level of interaction and whether they’re getting as much from their classes as they would if they were on campus. So our provost has decided we’re going to invest resources this summer in improving quality of remote teaching throughout the summer and into the fall, just in preparation for whatever may may be coming, but we’re also getting a pretty strong signal from our students that they want to get back to campus.

David Alexander: [00:17:02] Yeah, I think the, um, I would definitely echo, uh, you know, my, my thought was exactly the same of, um, the how quickly people were able to adapt to this new reality. Uh, and I think, I guess the other thing that, that kinda surprised me was how, um, quickly this became such a major issue. Uh, you know, we’ve all seen, you know, cases of, you know, this flu or that flu, um, you know, before, but we’ve never seen anything anywhere near this magnitude. Um, um, you know, that certainly caught me off guard, you know, I thought, oh yeah, this’ll blow over. It won’t be a big thing. And it’s like, no, we’re shutting down. Like the world is shutting down for this.

And, uh, so that was, uh, that was huge. But, uh, it really did amaze me how quickly people, um, and how well people responded. And there were some, um. A couple of moments there where I was like, when it was getting chaotic, trying to get everybody connected to Zoom and stuff like that. And, um, you know, the, how the faculty kind of helped and um, chipped in and helped each other out and say, Oh, you know, like some faculty member called me on Friday night and it’s like, I’ve got class first thing Saturday morning for this thing. And, you know, I’m trying to get in touch with them and I can’t reach them. And, um. They don’t like call them Saturday, more like the, Oh, did you get this work and I don’t want you to miss your class. And he’s like, Oh yeah. You know, I talked to one of my colleagues and they helped me get it going.

Um, you know, so things like that that are really, uh, it’s neat to see people come together in time like this to, um, you know, to help, help each other out and get things done. So, uh, yeah, it’s just a crazy, chaotic time, but there are some positives that come out of it too.

John Norris: [00:18:39] Yeah. And I’d like to piggyback or expound on a little bit of something that Tom said about, uh, improving the quality of remote instruction or online instruction. A lot of times people think of us as IT folks only, and as long as the lights are green and as long as the things are working, that’s all we care about. But truly, as leaders in our institutions, we really care about the quality of this, or how are we deliver this instruction.

And I know that’s happening across the board. Um, because just to put it out there and just to do it, it’s not good enough because our students will quickly let us know that, hey, this is, this isn’t the experience that I thought I was going to have or this isn’t the quality of education I think I’m paying for.

And it sounds like Tom and his team, Tom and their university has already done some evaluation on the fly. We haven’t gotten to that point yet, but I am highly concerned about the quality of the instruction that we’re putting out. I’m not going to watch it and hoping that it comes out, you know, awesome and this is the greatest thing we’ve ever done, but we just haven’t done that part just yet.

David Alexander: [00:19:47] And I would, I would add to that too. It’s, it’s, it’s not just the quality of the instruction that we need to think about. We need to create the, um, how do we maintain the value to the student? You know, students paying thousands of dollars to go to college, um, and they want to get the full college experience out of that.

So much of that is just, you know, living in a dorm and being with your friends and, you know, having the college life and we’re saying, okay, well you’re going to get the college experience from your house now, you know. When you’re home with your parents, it’s not the same experience and we’re not creating the same value.

So I think there’s, um, you know, a lot that we just need to rethink in terms of how do we create the maximum value for the student so they get the best possible college experience given the circumstances.

Tom Jackson: [00:20:34] David makes a really good point and we have talked a great deal about how we continue a lot of the programs that are tradition focused on campus activities. And so our student affairs division has been working to convene students remotely, try to keep those sorts of meetings going, try to get groups together that would have originally met on campus and things like that. But it is a challenge and it does require thinking in a different way and trying to connect with students who are in different locations.  And so we’re also having to think about other tools or other ways to connect with those students using social media platforms and things like that.

Jerri Bland: [00:21:28] I guess one thing that this all sort of highlights is operations that you know, you used to do day-to-day 30 to 60, 90 days ago are no longer necessarily there or they’ve transitioned into another space. How do you see the next six to nine months playing out from an operational perspective from you know, the IT seat? What does that look like or what do you hope it looks like from the IT perspective?

Tom Jackson: [00:22:02]  So I would say that’s a very complicated question and complicated answer. Um, I think we’re off to a good start in making this transition. From where we are we have to plan for various scenarios, one of which is that we’re back on campus in the fall. Uh, the state system or university system has decided that all summer instruction will be online so that we could not come back to campus before the fall for classrooms and for classroom instruction.

So we’re planning to be back, but we’re also planning to be out longer. And so we’re looking at various scenarios and trying to prioritize the things we need to have in place to have the most impact and to improve the efficiency of our operations as long as you’re working remotely well. hat’s caused us to shift our priorities a little.

There’s several projects that we had underway, a few that we have had to pause and a few that we’ve had to bring forward to fit more into a very distributive what is, what has become a very distributive environment. Um, and so we’re looking at more automation and more electronic based processes and fewer paper based processes.

For example, we’re looking, we started some of those projects. We already had some underway originally, we’re adding more of those over time. And I expect we will continue to do that. Even if we come back to campus we will continue to do that just to promote consistency and ubiquity of access to processes. And

David Alexander: [00:24:05] Yea, I think there’s a lot of questions about, you know, when, when do we get back to normal and what does normal look like. Uh, cause normal could mean that, you know, okay, well by the fall this whole thing has simmered down and we can just go back to the way things were. I don’t think that’s a very likely scenario, but that’s one possible option.

And of course, you know, it may be that, okay, we’re in this world for a little while. Um, maybe we get a vaccine. Look, life is good. We go back to normal, you know, a year from now or whatever. Or it could be that this is just the way it is, and, um, it’s going to be very difficult to fully transition back to the world as we knew it, uh, before the same, um, came out.

So, you know, trying to plan for those different scenarios, they’re all look completely different. Um, and so, you know, there’s a lot of, um, uncertainty about you know, how to move forward with things. Um, there’s a lot of financial uncertainty given all the economic impact this has had. Uh, and so it’s, you know, there’s everybody’s kind of holding tight right now in every industry.

And so that is, you know, having all these different ramifications for, um, you know, what we do and how, um, how we move forward knowing that everybody is, um, being very cautious, uh, and, um, moving very slowly, uh, in contracting rather than trying to, uh, trying to grow.  It leaves a lot of questions that we don’t know the answers to yet.

John Norris: [00:25:38] Yeah. And I concur with everything both the gentlemen said. We just don’t know what the new normal is going to be, uh, and  almost the best we can do is, you know, plan for all the different scenarios that we can think of, and we may miss some, but we can plan the best we can and it will require us to switch budget priorities sometimes and sometimes switch how we communicate with our students because on the top of everybody’s mind is, you know, how do we make sure we get these students back at our universities, whatever fashion come the fall? Uh, we’ve, we’re kind of so far in this spring semester that we kind of feel like we know what’s going to happen. And most of the stuff that revolves around everything is going to happen has happened. Uh, summer school is likely online at most places, you know, moving forward.

But the fall is so important is for our university, for sure, Johnson C Smith, you know, kind of the budget cycle. The budget cycles is based on the fall full time equivalent students or the number of students we bring in and without knowing how its gonna look has caused everyone to kind of do all kinds of scenario planning.

David Alexander: [00:26:53] Exactly. Exactly. We’re in the same boat trying to figure out, um, you know, we need that. Have some sense of what that number is going to be so that we can, um, we can budget appropriately and everything else and we can kind of guess based on the historical numbers and everything else. But we know we’re in a new reality and, you know, the students, um, have the same sort of uncertainty that we do. And so, you know, are they going to come back? Are they not? Are they, you know, who knows? Uh, so there’s a lot to, uh, a lot to be answered there too.

Tom Jackson: [00:27:24] I would agree.  I think at A and T we were trying to monitor the thoughts and decisions that students from 19 very closely, and we have historically monitored our recruitment efforts very closely. Um, we’re certainly continuing to do that. As we said earlier, planning for various scenarios. Um, one of those has to be business as normal and various variations, but we have to be prepared for all of our student to come back as well as allowing them to be remote.

John Norris: [00:28:06] And even though this is not directly, and I see responsibility, you know, they’re also, ah, high school students out there and now it seems more than ever their decision making is also being led by some of what’s going on with the news every day and with what their parents are saying and the level of fear or lack of fear that may be out there.

So students who may have been comfortable going to, let’s say a smaller school may all of a sudden be steered to go toward a larger, larger school because they feel like there’re more resources to handle something like this that comes up. Our students who may have wanted to go to an urban area may feel like, ah, urban areas are kind of having more issues with this COVID virus, let me go to a place that’s a little bit less urban. So, uh, as a university, not necessarily us, they have to start really thinking about how this COVID is also affecting 12th graders right now. And I think they’ve canceled or suspended the last few SATs, uh, sittings and whatnot. So a lot is happening in a short period of time at a time when we really should be focusing on bringing in that next class.

Jerri Bland: [00:29:23] Right. So, and how is that impacting, you know, your planning as an organization? You know usually at this time of year, you know, you’re, you’re planning to presumably graduate a class of students. You know, you may be getting ready for summer vacation. Uh, you know, some students taking a little bit of time off because they’ve been working really hard all year.

And where are we now? Um, you know, that’s not going to happen most likely, um, this year with everybody taking the summer off. Um, so, so what do you think that that’s going to do from a, even just a morale perspective and in working with your team?

Tom Jackson: [00:30:04] From my point of view, um, summer is a busy time for us. We usually do a lot of classroom equipment upgrades.

Um, we’ve invested quite a bit of money over the last three years in our classroom technology. Uh, we’re proceeding with planning for that, but we’ll evaluate whether we actually do that or not. Once we have the plans ready, I will take those to cabinet for discussion. Um, in terms of, um, what summer will bring, we just don’t know. There’s so much uncertainty. I have had one, one member of my leadership team who took a few days off. She had worked very hard and she frankly needed some rest. I only wish she had been able to go somewhere rather than stay home. I expect that we will make arrangements for people to take some time because they need it. They’ve worked very hard. They will need some time to decompress, and we will just have to build that into our calendar and make it work. We are also, as I said earlier, we’re also reevaluating our priorities and we’re going to bring some different projects to the forefront to get those done so that by the time we get to the fall, we will be in a better position to be able to work remotely if need be.

I think, uh, from my point of view from my team at A and T, I think, um, it’s been a very stressful time, but I think my team’s done a great job and the campus has really been very appreciative and thanked my team, and I think that has gone a long way to building the morale among my team. They see the contribution that they have made to the campus and getting this fairly heavy effort moving and the campus recognizes it as well.

I don’t think we will have a morale problem at all. Um, I think, uh, um, we say at A and T, Aggies do, and I think we have and will continue to do and my team will just rise to the challenge. I actually should say I’m extremely proud of my team. They’ve done a great job.

David Alexander: [00:32:38] Yeah, I think, um, you know, we’ve got this the same thing, you know, you know, we had a very small team. Um, but I feel like they’ve really come through with this. And, um, you know, I think the progress that we’ve made um, to get everybody where they are, uh, has been incredible given the timeframe that we’ve had.

Uh, even the systems, you know, we spun up systems that we didn’t have to, uh, provide the capabilities for people and the systems that we had that, you know, you know, in the, in the previous world, you really only needed to accommodate a small percentage of. For in terms of capacity, you know, it’s like, okay, well you might have a situation where some people might need to work remote or you might have a situation where you need me a little bit of this for a little bit of that.

Then, you know, maybe you had the systems, you had the VPN, you had the, you know, the remote desktop capabilities, whatever it is. Um. You had the zoom users, but you didn’t have enough for everybody to use it all at once and so I feel like we really adapted well to, to get a zero to 100 overnight on that. Um, and then of course with the summer stuff, you know, we got the same sort of thing where it’s like, we want to upgrade all the facilities and things and, you know, trying to figure out how important is that going to be.

You know, we don’t need to outfit a whole bunch of empty rooms.  Yeah, and we also have all these other projects that we want to do that, um, we’ll need in the case of, uh, you know, the remote work. Uh, and for us it’s been kind of nice because we’ve had some things where we’ve been trying to push and make, uh, some of these a, a priority for business continuity reasons anyway, and now that this has come along, it’s kind of like, you know, kind of shed some light on, hey, yeah, this really isn’t important. Um, and it’s really would be a useful solution for us. Uh, one of the big ones there is, are our phone system. So we have a VoIP system now that’s on Primus Solutions.

And, uh, you know, we’ve been trying to get a cloud solution for phones going and, uh, you know, it’s like, oh, you know, I’m really worried this thing’s gonna fall over one day and we’re going  and, you know, It’s going to get a break on us, and, uh, this provided an excellent opportunity to just kind of make that push, like look, hey, if we had a cloud phone system, people could answer their phones wherever they are, and we don’t have to worry about people being at work or not at work. So, uh, that was a big win for us recently in terms of getting that, um, getting that approved and getting that done. And so now I’ll just have to do all the work, but, uh, that will be one of our big summer projects. So, yeah, absolutely.

John Norris: [00:35:01] Yeah. I echo what those guys have said. Um, it feels like as far as the technology department, we just really hadn’t had the time to stop and breathe and reflect on, you know, everything that we have been asked to do and were able to accomplish. And, um, that’s a good thing because that means that, um, we have the capacity and the bandwidth as far as the personnel to get it done. Uh, we may find out later that we could have done some things better and, and maybe we didn’t have to spend as many man hours doing, doing a few things that we did, but I feel like, you know, everybody’s been working hard, putting in plenty hours and answering as many calls and resolving issues around the clock, but we just hadn’t really stopped and think about, okay, what toll has this taken on IT staff?

Um, there’s a lot of pressure there. Uh, where we are used to pressure, but this was more than anything we’ve been accustomed to, but as far as me polling them so far, I hadn’t seen it to the extent that I thought I’d see it and what not. Now what’s to come, may double or triple that pressure, but you know, I feel good about where we are as an organization and, um, we hopefully will be able to let some people have some time, you know, coming up through the summer.

Jerri Bland: [00:36:22] Right. And so as you’re thinking about communicating beyond campus, what would you say to the governors, the, you know, the county managers, the city managers, you know, the federal government about the challenges that you may be having or if you had recommendations for them, what would they be?

Tom Jackson: [00:36:51] From a technology point of view, the first thing that comes to mind is ubiquitous access to broadband internet.

Um, yeah, it’s, it has become such a dividing line for our students, uh, which really has nothing to do with anything but the location where they live and were there companies who  chose to fully broadband in that area  yet or not, but it’s something that I believe every American should have access to.

Um, cause it enables I want to live within 21st century and take advantage of a lot of services that are online or not. And there’s really little a university can do except maybe in some cases when the immediate sanity, but resource through the stash and there’s no way that we can solve a problem of broadband access throughout the entire country,

um, has to be approached government and business leaders and organizations. Um, and I would say that that is my technology most impressive issue. Um, did I.

John Norris: [00:38:15] Yeah, I agree with Tom. It’s, it’s the, it’s the access. It’s the broadband access issue that we have and our students are challenged with. And like you said earlier, it kind of doesn’t matter where they live. They oftentimes can’t afford the access or fighting for that bandwidth. And that’s an issue that as a state, uh, I wish we could figure out a way to overcome.

David Alexander: [00:38:42] Yeah, it’s certainly going to be an issue. Uh, you know, you hate to see students disadvantaged because they simply don’t have the connectivity. Um, you know, it’s, it’s not fair to those students who can’t get the, um, get the capability to just keep up with the other students, regardless of how our hard they work or anything else.

It’s just a, it’s a necessity, you know, like running water, like, Hey, we need to provide this electricity.

David Alexander: [00:39:12] So yeah. You know, certainly from an it perspective, that’s, uh, that’s the big one. Um, but I mean, I guess there’s, there’s so much that they’re juggling right now, um that they have to consider, you know, all the pros and cons between, you know, keeping people safe and, and, um, you know, allowing the economy to kind of get back on its feet, uh, and all the implications that we have if we keep the economy sidelined.

Um, there there’s a lot of costs to that, um, as well, you know, not just monetarily, but, um, you know, so trying to balance that. And how do you, you know, where do you draw that line between, you know, having a productive society and having a safe society and it’s, uh, it’s not an easy decision to make. So I don’t, I don’t necessarily envy, uh, the situation they’re in as far as, you know, where to, um, how tighten to reign things in, because you don’t want to lose any lives to this. Um, but you also, you know, can’t just stop the world from turning either. So, uh, they’ve got some tough decisions to make, but we’ll try to do what we can to, to follow in their guidance.

Tom Jackson: [00:40:21] Outside of technology, if you answer your question on a much more broader sense and not just focused on technology.  There are several issues that HBCUs face and have faced for a long time. Timing is an issue for most HBCUs I think. I would not Um, I think I would be remiss if I were speaking to someone in that role, not, not to put a footnote in some issue on financial aid for our students is another issue.

I agree with what David said, and he has an impressive, so the day relate to help and care for our citizens and trying to keep our economy moving. Well, those are complicated and challenging questions, but, um, there’s also an impact, um, that is magnified among some parts of our society, um, who don’t necessarily have the same resources as in parts of our society.

And I, I think we would be remiss if we did not remind our leaders of that, that fact.

Jerri Bland: [00:41:36] Great. Thank you. Well, is there anything else that you would say is important for people to know from, you know, an IT perspective from an HBCU perspective? And you sort of touched on that a little bit, Tom, that you really want people to know and really take away from, you know, the experience that you’ve had over the last 30 to 45 days.

Tom Jackson: [00:42:02] Well, the first thing that I would say to people, be very careful of responding to emails. Um, we’ve seen a tremendous uptick in phishing expeditions against our user base and other security threats. The first thing I would is caution everyone one once again, be careful with those, um, that situation.

Um, but beyond that, I, I think I would point to the job that HBCs have done, of moving instruction online and capabilities. And honestly, we have shown doing that and serving a community that, um. Otherwise, perhaps not as small.

John Norris: [00:42:54] Yeah. And, um, you know, I think there’s some value oftentimes that gets overlooked to be in a smaller institution. And I consider all three of us to be small.  Not, North Carolina A and T, not so much, but smaller than some of the larger institutions in the land. I think we’re able to be nimble. I mean, I think the fact of the matter is oftentimes, uh, users, both staff and students need that personal handholding on a lot of, when you introduce new technology. And I think we were positioned well as an HBCU, and that’s kind of the expectation that students and families that send their kids to HBCUs have anyway. So even with this technology hiccup or whatever we want to call it, um, we were well positioned to address these because of the nature of what HBCUs are and have been.

Uh, there’s a quote out there that I’ll kinda mess up a little bit, butcher it, but it says, when, you know, when colleges or the universe of colleges has a cold HBCUs get the flu and whatnot, and no pun intended, but you know, it’s a struggle because there’s not always unlimited resources or endowments that some universities have to go out and fix problems.

But I think the people we have in place and the spirit of what HBCUs are all about, have helped us get through this COVID-19 situation, at least early stages of it. And I feel confident that we’ll make the same kinds of, uh, improvements and progress as we continue to go through this situation.

David Alexander: [00:44:37] Yeah, I mean, the, um, the world we’re living in has changed so much, but, you know, the, the reason why we’re all here has not changed, right?

So we’re still doing the same things. We’re creating opportunity for our students and, um, you know, that needs going to be there regardless of whether we’re coming together on campus or whether we’re teaching virtually or whatever the situation calls for. Um, we’re still here to. Uh, you know, create that next generation of, of leaders and providing the opportunity, um, that our students, you know, uh, that we’re here to provide for those students.

And so, um, you know, it’s, it’s adapting to the new reality, but at the end of the day, we’re still doing the same thing we’ve always done. Uh, it’s just how do we, how do we adapt to the new environment?

John Norris: [00:45:26] Yes. And also I failed to mention there are organizations out there that don’t mind helping HBCUs and really make it, you know, a pivotal, uh, platform what they do.

And I just want to make the claim now that all of our HBCUs we need that help now more than ever. Um, we, uh, you know, this has hit us hard, uh, as a group, as a collective HBCUs and, um, we’re open and servicing our students. And we’re doing the job that we’ve always done, as David said, but we do need support, um, all kinds of support from those that, you know, typically support HBCUs and also others.

I’m appreciative of what the, um, stimulus act did the CARES act did for our universities to remember and put our schools in that act was important to us, and we do need that kind of, uh, help, uh, assistance as we go through this new normal.

Jerri Bland: [00:46:27] Great. Well, I appreciate it. All of your time. I know your schedules are very busy. Um, but I think it was important that you have an opportunity to share your experiences and let people know what’s happening on your campus. So I very much appreciate your time and I look forward to having you at a future wrath where we can discuss more topics of interest.

Thank you and I hope to see you later.

John Norris: [00:46:56] Thank you for having me.

David Alexander: [00:46:57] Yes. Thank you so much. Really appreciate it.