Pitt IT wants to continue expanding digitization on campus


In two town halls this month, Chief Information Officer Mark Henderson and Pitt IT staff recapped a busy year of IT initiatives and outlined the department’s goals in expanding connectivity, community engagement and campus digitization.

Pitt IT held town halls for staff on Dec. 7 and faculty on Dec. 9 where multiple Pitt employees praised the department’s efforts in adapting to the COVID-19 pandemic and asked questions related to internet security, Pitt’s ITs software migration efforts and more.

University Registrar Patricia Mathay was one of several faculty and staff who praised Pitt IT’s initiatives — in particular, its work with Zoom class scheduling.

“They went above and beyond,” Mathay said. “And I think in all my years at Pitt, I think this is the most collegial group of people I’ve ever worked with. Thanks for all that hard work.”

Henderson was thankful for the positive feedback, especially since the pandemic put Pitt IT in a tough spot.

“We were dealt a pretty significant hand relative to COVID-19 and the ensuing pandemic,” Henderson said. “We were pretty well prepared, I think, and I give all credit to your collective efforts and the collective efforts of members of Pitt IT.”

When he first joined Pitt last year, Henderson said he was already focused on remote work, which helped the department adapt. “I think that went a long way in preparing us to work the bugs out of support mechanisms.”

Upcoming initiatives

Henderson said he and his team will focus on enhancing student, faculty and staff experiences through a variety of initiatives, including standardizing classroom technologies; creating a portfolio of IT services that support Pitt researchers; gathering necessary software licenses; and expanding internet connectivity.

Overall, Pitt IT wants to continue expanding digitization on campus, Henderson said, particularly in non-traditional IT devices. Henderson pointed to the 100 thermal scanners Pitt has implemented across all of its campuses as an example.

“We want to do more there,” Henderson said. “We want to create smart platforms that do a number of things, not the least of which is to enhance public safety. We want to utilize the Internet of Things to further advance the digitization of the campus. And let me pause to say that all of this needs to be done in a very thoughtful way with emphasis placed on privacy issues, being able to opt-in or opt-out of the services.” 

Additionally, the department wants to build on recent efforts in enhancing and expanding internet connectivity throughout Oakland, Henderson said. 

Town hall participants were concerned about security and privacy with this expansion of internet services, a topic that has been highly discussed among faculty. In the November Senate Computing and Information Technology Committee meeting, members discussed how new privacy issues should be included in the Computer Access and Use Policy and the University Network Policy, which are now under review through Pitt’s policy revision process.

Henderson said his team was working on implementing a Security Operation Center to help improve Pitt’s IT security

Community engagement

The department’s efforts in expanding connectivity and increasing IT support services are core parts of Pitt IT’s community engagement plans.

Over the summer, Pitt expanded wireless coverage in several outdoor areas in and near campus, including the front yard of Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall & Museum, the space between Posvar Hall and Hillman Library and the green space between Hillman Library and the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh. And Pitt IT plans to continue partnering with the Carnegie Library and UPMC to further expand wireless connectivity throughout Oakland

The expanded coverage has allowed for students, faculty and staff to socially distance while maintaining internet connectivity, Henderson said. Additionally, there are plans to have “persistent” wireless connectivity on University buses and shuttles.

The department is collaborating with community organizations  to provide devices, IT support services, internet connectivity and IT career opportunities for Pittsburgh residents.

One of the larger projects is a partnership with Carnegie Mellon University through Meta Mesh, a nonprofit organization working to provide high-speed internet to underserved communities. 

Henderson said part of Pitt’s contributions to this project are antenna on top of the Cathedral of Learning, which will broadcast a signal to receivers in these underserved communities and allow for houses and apartments in nearby underserved communities to use high-speed internet.

“I mean, with the advent of this pandemic, (it) has become very evident, more so now than ever, the challenges of digital divide issues,” Henderson said. “We want to continue to have a regional impact.”

Donovan Harrell is a writer for the University Times. Reach him at dharrell@pitt.edu or 412-383-9905. 


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