By Sabrina Carroll
Student Life Editor
Try and picture your college experience without the use of technology. Online scholarly journals are used to compose theses, online databases are used to collect scientific data, and hand-written papers are rarely accepted by professors. No matter where you look, someone is hunched over a laptop cranking out an assignment. Washington College would not be where it is without the Office of Information Technology (OIT), and more specifically its new Chief Information Officer Scott Cowdrey.
OIT is a crucial aspect of life at WC. “The unique importance of OIT is that we are responsible for the ‘central nervous system’ if you will, of WC,” Cowdrey said. “That is, nearly every part of WC is dependent on access to the network, to the data systems we support and to the internet [which includes access to Canvas, Office 365, and other services]. This nervous system is made up of hundreds of complex electronic devices and connections to many dozens of servers, both local and in the internet ‘cloud.’ Our job in OIT is to make all that 100 percent reliable, every minute of every day, while at the same time doing upgrades and replacements and fixes in a way that is nearly transparent to our community of users.”
“We have good, knowledgable hard working people keeping it all going, and to me, they are the ones who are extremely important, and I’m very happy they do their jobs well.”
This year has not been an easy one for OIT, and Cowdrey has been a leader in bouncing back from challenges. “There are so many things we want to do, improvements we want to make, and it’s frustrating at times that it just takes time to do it all,” he said. “[We had plans] underway on Aug. 15 [the date of the fire that destroyed a building where OIT was housed], and it’s taken more time to get those projects back on the front burner than we’d like. We lost a lot of new electronics that needed to be re-ordered also. So the challenge is… so much to do, so little time.”
Another issue that has come up for OIT is the Wi-Fi on campus. There have been complaints from students regarding the quality, and President Sheila Bair addressed it in her first interview with The Elm. Cowdrey shared his thoughts on how to correct those issues. “There are a lot of factors that play into providing a ‘good’ Wi-Fi experience, and while unfortunately none of them are simple fixes, we are systematically working in various ways to make needed improvements,” he said.
“The two most essential parts for the campus community are getting connected/staying connected and the speed of data transfer. It’s important to note that it’s not just a matter of changing some settings to magically make it all work better. Over the past few months, several core data switches and wireless device controllers have been upgraded, and many dozens of new wireless ‘access points’ have been replaced or added (we have about 470 of these Wi-Fi access points (APs) around the campus) and more are planned. We are implementing some new software that will help identify where weak signals exist and tell us where to add a new AP. Many residence halls have been updated with new APs, and more are in the works. All this is to improve the Wi-Fi signal quality to your mobile devices and therefore improve connectivity and speed.”
Cowdrey also shared what students can do in the meantime while the issue is being diligently worked on. He said, “One thing students can do today (if they routinely have slow speed or a poor connection in a location) is to let the Help Desk know the ‘when’ and ‘where,’ and we will check to see if a new AP needs to be installed.”
Although working for OIT definitely presents its challenges, Cowdrey is impressed with the staff and is excited to keep connecting with students. “The OIT staff has been very welcoming, and we’ve gone through some tough times together already with the fire and all,” he said. “I also really admire and enjoy working with my colleagues on the senior staff. Everyone is really excited about the new opportunities before us, and I feel very fortunate to be part of that team. I have also really enjoyed meeting and talking with our students here. I’ve worked at several universities and colleges around the country. Honestly, we’ve got some really bright and engaged students here. That makes it all the more worthwhile to make the technology upgrades we need to improve their learning experience.”
The WC educational experience depends on technology, and Cowdrey is key in keeping that connection between technology and the students strong.