UIUC’s tech chief explains her school’s success

Technology and student support are cornerstones of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC), so when the school was named America’s "top wired college" earlier this year, Chief Information Officer Sally Jackson knew the institution’s investments had paid dividends.

"You like the attention when people recognize one of your own greatest strengths," said Jackson, who has been CIO for more than a year and is a graduate of the university. "It’s our goal to remain No. 1, and we want to provide the best, richest, highest-tech environment that we can to support the programs that make this university what it is."

PC Magazine ranked UIUC—which placed sixth in 2006’s "top wired" list—above some of the best-known universities with some of the largest budgets in the United States, such as Stanford and MIT. Villanova University dropped from No. 1 in 2006 to No. 15 in 2007. Kansas State University ranked second behind UIUC in this year’s list, and the University of Utah rounded out the top three.

Jackson said her school’s focus on updating and incorporating new technologies and courses—such as data mining and parallel computing—is a campus-wide effort, and her primary responsibility is to solidify the university’s infrastructure to ensure a tech-rich environment.

UIUC grabbed the top spot partly because school officials lend laptops to students and provide a 24-hour tech-support phone line, offering flexibility to students and faculty who work irregular schedules.

The help line paid off for a university dean earlier this semester. The dean’s eMail password wasn’t registering in the school’s network on a Friday night, and he needed to access an eMail message to finish work over the weekend. A help line operator helped the dean fix the problem, Jackson said.

"Even with very good self-service tools for things like resetting passwords, we will still need 24-hour support so people can study and work when they want to," said Jackson, who served as the University of Arizona’s CIO and has worked on distance education projects in higher education.

After earning her bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degrees at UIUC, Jackson said she found her way into the IT field when it surfaced as a vital issue in higher education in the mid-1990s.

"My goal is for [UIUC] to be a place where anything is possible, technologically," she said. "That means we must constantly work at being on the front edge of invention and innovation."


University of Illinois Urbana Champaign

 Note to readers:

Don’t forget to visit the Anywhere Anytime Administration resource center. As schools move toward the newest technologies, school administrators need to be reassured that vital information will reach them instantly, whether they are in the office, in a meeting, or traveling across their district or campus. The need for anywhere, anytime access has led many administrators to depend on mobile, handheld devices for eMail and other applications. Go to: Anywhere Anytime Administration