How 2 colleges sealed awards for COVID tech efforts

Transformative efforts during the pandemic helps Cal Poly San Luis Obispo leader and Alamo Colleges District earn national honors from Tambellini Group and fellow CIOs.
By: | March 17, 2021
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Technology teams at colleges and universities have largely labored in anonymity throughout the pandemic, despite being the driving forces behind remote and virtual learning.

Called on to deliver fast internet, devices and training to students, faculty and staff – many times 24/7 – their efforts have been worthy of acclaim, whether or not they have been recognized as key stakeholders on campus.

Their work behind the scenes, however, has not gone unnoticed by one organization, the Tambellini Group and higher education CIOs across the country, which annually names its Technology Leadership Award winners in higher education.

Based on a year like no other, Tambellini honored the top IT decision-makers and teams from the California Polytechnic State University at San Luis Obispo and the Alamo Colleges District for their strides to transform their campuses and reach students amid the swirl of COVID-19 … and against near impossible odds.

“Institutions look to continuously improve their operations by adapting to the rapidly changing demands of today’s students, and the most successful ones are supported by strong technology leaders and teams,” said Vicki Tambellini, President and CEO of Tambellini Group. “We are honored to elevate and reward Cal Poly and Alamo Colleges for their remarkable achievements in serving students and leading progress during an exceptionally challenging year for higher education.”

For the Alamo Colleges District, which serves 70,000 students in the most impoverished and one of the most technology-challenged areas in the United States – San Antonio – the recognition was confirmation of a job not only done, but also well done.

“Alamo’s IT department is comprised of a dedicated and engaged team of professionals who work tirelessly to support our organizational mission of student access and success,” said Thomas Cleary, Alamo Colleges vice chancellor who led the IT team. “We know that without reliable connectivity to systems and solutions there can be no student learning or staff engagement ­– and our team never forgets that IT is in the business of student success.”

Bill Britton, the CIO and Vice President of Information Technology and the Director of the California Cybersecurity Institute at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, won Tambellini’s CIO Award for his “numerous ambitious modernization projects, including the university’s successful transition to a cloud-based campus data center,” the Tambellini Group said.

Why they stood out

The challenges presented by the pandemic were enormous for the Alamo Colleges District, which boasts five colleges and eight regional centers and a large percentage of students who lacked broadband internet access and devices.

So, a team led by Cleary set to work on finding ways to deliver remote access to all of them through a 10-point “don’t disrupt the student” motto. Among the many solutions put into practice was a “Park and Learn” initiative that allowed students to get high-speed internet in all of its campuses’ parking lots.

The results were well-received, adding stability during a time of struggle for higher education. In fact, while community college enrollments plummeted, particularly for first-time students and those from lower-income communities like San Antonio, the Alamo College District experienced a slight uptick in its fall 2020 numbers. The ability of the quick tech turnaround also led to a 92% retention rate in the spring of 2020, its highest ever. Those efforts helped them earn the honor from Tambellini Group.

“This award is the latest in a long line of national, state and local recognitions that reflect our dedication to performance excellence and particularly, our efforts to give our students the benefit of the latest and best technology to ensure their success,” said Dr. Mike Flores, Alamo Colleges Chancellor.

At Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, Britton led the efforts to roll out its cloud-based learning management systems in March to 22,000 students plus faculty in three weeks. As chief technologist, he has also been an integral part of the Digital Transformation Hub (DxHub) project that helps deliver technology solutions to challenging problems faced by the public sector with partners such as Elon Musk’s StarLink and the World Bank. Cal Poly is the only education institution to be a certified training partner for Amazon World Services.

“I am honored to receive this award and feel fortunate to work with an incredible team at Cal Poly that has been instrumental in modernizing the university’s technology environment,” says Britton, who was honored for his ability to help deploy technology across administrative, teaching and learning, security and data analytics systems. “These efforts have allowed us to be more agile and responsive to the university’s needs, which is critical to the success of students, faculty and staff, especially now.”

Past winners of the awards have included St. Xavier University, Smith College, Oral Roberts University, George Mason University and the College of New Jersey. For more information on  the nomination process, readers can check out the Tambellini Group awards here.