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81: Anytime, Anywhere Access with Casey Gordon of the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University

Published June 8, 2021
Run time: 00:53:37
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Spearheading IT departments of higher education institutions was a harried job even before a global pandemic. Casey Gordon, Chief Information Officer at the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University, joins the show to chat about balancing IT priorities, gaining cooperation amongst diverse stakeholders, preventing social engineering attacks, and how an IT department can support the mission of the organization.

In this episode, you will learn:

  • The workflow of tech in higher education
  • How the institution depended on tech during the pandemic to avoid business disruption
  • How to gain cooperation with a diverse set of stakeholders
  • How to ensure IT supports the mission of an organization using professional development
  • Tips for staying on top of emerging tech
  • The global treasure of Bluey making us better parents
  • How to budget between maintenance and growth
  • How to effectively educate your staff on social engineering best practices

This episode is brought to you by The Jed Mahonis Group, where we make sense of mobile app development with our non-technical approach to building custom mobile software solutions. Learn more at https://jmg.mn.

Recorded June 2, 2021 | Edited by Jordan Daoust | Produced by Jenny Karkowski

Show Links:

Casey Gordon on LinkedIn | https://www.linkedin.com/in/caseyjogordon/

Women of Influence Summit | https://www.eventbrite.com/e/women-of-influence-summit-2021-tickets-153053634541

College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University | https://www.csbsju.edu

Farnam Street Blog | https://fs.blog/

The Full Story of the Stunning RSA Hack | https://www.wired.com/story/the-full-story-of-the-stunning-rsa-hack-can-finally-be-told/

JMG Careers Page | https://jmg.mn/careers

Email careers@jmg.mn

Connect with Tim Bornholdt on LinkedIn | https://www.linkedin.com/in/timbornholdt/

Chat with The Jed Mahonis Group about your app dev questions | https://jmg.mn

Episode Transcript:

Tim Bornholdt 0:00
Welcome to Constant Variables, a podcast where we take a non-technical look at what it takes to build and grow digital products. I'm Tim Bornholdt. Let's get nerdy.

A quick note before we get into this week's episode. We at The Jed Mahonis Group have a lot of fun projects coming in the door. And as a result, we need to expand our team and bring on some more iOS and Android developers. We at JMG place an emphasis on hiring for fit as opposed to skills. Skills can absolutely be taught and fostered through mentorship and experience. Fit on the other hand is harder to define. But we've outlined some of the traits we're looking for on our careers page at jmg.mn/careers. So whether you have a year of experience, or 20 years of experience, if you're interested in building awesome digital products, please reach out at careers@jmg.mn. And we'll put that email address and a link to our careers page in the show notes as well.

Today, we are chatting with Casey Gordon, Chief Information Officer at the College of St. Benedict and St. John's University. Casey has had a storied career working in the IT departments of several higher education institutions. And she joins me today to talk about how to balance your IT priorities, preventing social engineering attacks, how an IT department can support the mission of the organization and how the TV show Bluey makes us better parents. So without further ado, here is my interview with Casey Gordon.

Casey, welcome to the show.

Casey Gordon 1:46
Thank you. Thank you for having me.

Tim Bornholdt 1:48
I'm very excited to have you here. I'd love it if you took a second to introduce yourself and what you do at the College of St. Benedict and St. John's University.

Casey Gordon 1:56
Sure. I'm the CIO, Chief Information Officer, at the College of St. Benedict and St. John's University in central Minnesota. Basically, that means I'm in charge of all of the technology services that we offer at both the college and the university. We also have a prep school on the campus as well, 6 through 12th grade. And we support the technology for that area as well, including the monks and the nuns who live on campus. So we kind of operate like a little mini cities sometimes.

Tim Bornholdt 2:25
It sounds like you've got a quite a network that you would have to maintain. I mean, what does a normal day look like for you?

Casey Gordon 2:32
I'm not sure there is a normal day in the world of technology. But I think, you know, on average, we're all there for the students. And so we kind of flow with their cycles. So for example, you know, we've got the fall semester where all the students are moving in. And there's all this hustle and bustle around August, September to get ready for the students arrival. And then you really kind of move into the semester, what are the faculty needs, what are the students needs to be successful. And then we have, you know, midterms, there's this big rise of activity, and then a little bit of a break where everyone kind of hunkers down and gets ready for finals. And then of course, we have the beautiful Christmas or winter break where we all get to relax a little bit, and then we do it all over again. And so we really have those semester cycles.

So sometimes our days are really filled with or mine in particular are filled with a lot of meetings and a lot of trying to problem solve and get things ready to go. And other days are a little bit more calm, where we can dig in and do a little bit more of those planning activities. We just did graduation. And so our students have gone forth into the world. And so we're actually moving into more of that planning time cycle. So right now we're going to be doing a bunch of upgrades before the students come back and some of our strategic planning initiatives. So it kind of changes with the year. It's one of the things I love about higher ed, is that you have this cyclical nature.

Tim Bornholdt 3:56
Yeah, I would imagine it'd be a lot easier to get into a flow then because in my world, like when you're doing custom software development, there's no cycles, really. I's pretty much you show up one day, and the building's on fire, or you show up one day, and there's nothing to do and you kind of have to, you know, pick your battles as the day goes. But in your case, do you find you get to have a good balance between having to manage everything that's going on at one point, but also being able to do that strategic planning and making sure that you're, you know, staying ahead of the curve as it relates to technology?

Casey Gordon 4:28
Absolutely. I mean, we have the same challenges. I think that anyone does, just like you described. One day, you might show up and there's a fire you have to put out. Maybe there's a security issue that needs addressing, or maybe there's, you know, some, well, the pandemic is one, right, like a giant time period where we had to do so much planning specifically around that. But then there's other times where you can delve into those strategic responsibilities and I think you really have to find some of that ebb and flow and take advantage of it, right. If you're in some of those slower periods, can you really get some of that strategic work done. But then also we try to carve out time during our normal days, right. So there's some standing meetings around security that we have every other week that happen regardless. And that's always a combination of strategic and actual responsiveness in those meetings. So you kind of have to layer it all throughout. But then also take advantage of some of that cyclical nature in order to really dive in and make a lot of progress when you can.

Tim Bornholdt 5:32
Yeah, and you mentioned the pandemic, which it'd be hard to have a podcast in 2021 that doesn't talk about the pandemic. But I'm really curious to hear how you were able to help the college and the university use tech to get through the pandemic and avoid any potential disruptions to education or just business as usual.

Casey Gordon 5:53
Sure. You know, it's so interesting, because I started at St. John's and Saint Ben's probably about six years ago. Actually, it'll be six years next month. And at that time, I started working on a strategic plan. And one of the things that I felt was critically important for the student of the future was this idea of anytime, anywhere access. And we are primarily an in person, residential campus. So most of our students are on campus. But what I saw is that that's not necessarily always where they want to do their work. And so at that time, again, pre pandemic, not knowing that there was a pandemic coming, I had written into our strategic plan a goal, a very specific pillar of the plan around anytime, anywhere access.

And so when the pandemic came, we had been working on this for five years already. And so my staff was really well positioned to start to use some of the tools that we've put in place like virtual labs, or VPN access, or some of the different pieces that were so critical. We had already purchased zoom a couple of years ago. And so when the pandemic came, we obviously had to ramp up all those efforts. But the work that we've been doing for the past five years really well positioned us to be able to ramp up and address things in a very quick manner. So I felt like we handled it extremely well from that standpoint.

And I think it's interesting, because the whole institution depended upon tech during that time period, right? So we had to provide many of the solutions that they didn't even necessarily know that they needed. They just knew that they needed to get their work done. So we were able to get all of our staff working remotely, our faculty, all of our students were able to do their classes remotely. And that was the early days of the pandemic, when everyone just kind of went home, and it was all remote. But then very quickly, we had to mobilize a team across the institution to start to talk about what does the fall look like? And how do we get our students back on campus? How do we get our students to have a quality learning experience, whether they're on campus or not.

I like to think about what we did in the early days of the pandemic as emergency teaching. It wasn't really online learning or in any sort of quality format, right? It was emergency teaching. We did what we could do to get through. But then over the summer, we really had to learn and teach our faculty or not necessarily teach our faculty but support our faculty as they learned how to provide a quality online learning experience. And that was a really critical piece of work that we did over the summer.

And we also did two really important things that prepared us for fall. We focused on hybrid classrooms. So over the summer, in a six week time period, we upgraded 108 classrooms to have technology with cameras and microphones and everything that we would be able to, that we would need in order to have that hybrid learning experience. So that means some people might be in person, and some people might be remote. And that includes the faculty member, the person teaching the course. So for example, when I taught in fall, I taught a course called college success. And I had 12 students in one room with me, all socially distanced. And I had another 12 students in a different classroom, all socially distanced, and six students online all at the same time. And so all of that work happened over the summer for us to be able to kind of culminate in that kind of an experience for fall. So that was incredibly important.

We also did one other thing that I'll mention, which is we switched our entire schedule to something called a block schedule. And that involved a lot of technology to really uplift our entire schedule and take it from students would take, formerly in the semester schedule, they would take 4 classes across 16 weeks. We uplifted that and changed the whole schedule so that it would be 1 class for 4 weeks across the course of the semester. And so essentially students were only taking one class at a time. And they had four blocks to make up what used to be that whole semester. And the goal of that was to increase social distancing, right? Instead of in a given week, students interacting with four different classrooms and four different groups of students, in any given week, they were only interacting with one set of students, one class. And so we really felt like with that block schedule and the hybrid classroom, we were able to dramatically reduce the number of other students that students got exposed to. And that's one of the reasons we were able to have almost an entire year fully in this hybrid schedule and in this hybrid environment, essentially,

Tim Bornholdt 10:47
There is so much to unpack in that. It is so cool, though. Just imagining from like a tech standpoint, how you can pull all that off over a summer, like just insane kudos to you. There's a couple things that I wanted to ask you with what you just said. So first of all, with adjusting the schedule from going from, like 4 classes spread out across the 16 week schedule, as opposed to doing like a one month of each of the classes, was there any like, I'm wondering about like the quality of the education and like, were there any metrics or baselines or anything that you were kind of using to gauge the success of these? I mean, I'm not trying to like throw you under a bus of obviously. We're all kind of flying by the seat of our pants right now. So I'm certainly not like trying to, you know, it's not a gotcha question. It's genuinely out of curiosity, like, how do you measure the effectiveness of it? And then as a follow up, are there systems in place that you're trying to put in for the upcoming school year that might improve on lessons that you learned from before?

Casey Gordon 11:51
Yeah, great questions. And I wish I could say we had these intensive metrics where we measured, you know, student learning outcomes in a different way. But really, we relied on those faculty to know their content and to know whether they could deliver it successfully in that time period. And really, it's a lot like summer classes. I mean, many people take a summer class that's four weeks long. And so what you get is this really intensive time period. And there research on both sides. Our faculty were so phenomenal in going back and doing research about this and figuring out if this was a model that could work. There's research that says that you can actually learn better when you're fully focused on one topic for four weeks instead of spread across different areas. And there's research on the other side that says it's hard to pack that much learning into a four week time period. And so I think we found that to be very true, right? In some classes, the block schedule worked really well. And in others, it was really hard. I think with, you know, when you're trying to learn a language, that's one thing I think about in particular, where it's hard to memorize that much information in such a short time period. And so you know, that can be a challenge. I know we heard a lot of challenges also from some of our, like, more intensive science or math courses, where it's just a lot to have one class period and have to learn so much, and then come back and take a test on it the very next day.

So overall, it was a lot of mixed feedback. It worked really well in some areas and other areas thought it just maybe wasn't quite the best format for their classes. But it did allow us to survive and to continue without that business disruption. Right? And so we were able to serve our students so we consider that a success for the last year. However, it was a pandemic measure, not a continuous teaching measure that we wanted to move to. So for fall, we are moving back to our normal semester schedule.

Tim Bornholdt 13:48
Nice. And I would assume there were lessons learned during that that you can apply going forward. But yeah, it mean, it's hard, like when you condense 4 weeks, you know, 16 weeks of a program into 4 weeks, you know, in the middle of a health crisis. If someone gets sick for a week, how do you recover from that? So I could see there being, you know, benefits to both sides also. But that's really interesting. And the other question that I had for you with the pandemic was, you mentioned leaning a lot on the teachers for driving the curriculum forward. But I wonder from, like a technology standpoint, things moved so quickly last year with so many different services and SaaS tools and just technology flew at this, like super rapid pace, but by demand, obviously. People needed to be able to have these meetings and things remotely. Were there any like instances of students or faculty coming to you and saying, Hey, there's this cool new thing we want to try out? And worked with you to kind of get that implemented and fit into the vision that you have for the schools?

Casey Gordon 14:53
Absolutely. It has to be a partnership. I think the faculty know their own areas so well, and we know what's happening in higher ed and we know technology and you kind of have to put those pieces together. Because sometimes the faculty would come to us and say, I really want to use this instrumentation in my lab. But if half the students are remote, because we can't fit because of social distancing, how can we create an experience where they can still use the instrumentation, or at least experience it without actually being in the classroom? And so we would talk about what are the ways we could use cameras, and could we partner students together so that if one partner was in the lab, they were running the instrumentation, but they were on video, and could explain it to the student who was remote, or something like that. And so sometimes we would have to sort through that together.

But sometimes faculty would come to us with an idea, like, I've seen this at other schools, or, you know, we have one in our biology courses, they use a tool called complete anatomy. And it's this amazing visualization software that allows you to visualize actual, you know, parts of the body and bones and the respiratory system and veins and everything you could possibly want to see, you know, in a virtual environment right on your computer. And so that was an amazing tool that we were able to start implementing with their classes. And I think they actually intend to continue to use that even after the pandemic, because it's such a valuable learning tool, just to be able to see things that you can't quite see on a book, right?

Tim Bornholdt 16:27
Yeah, I would imagine that there's so many examples of that. Just, it's funny how, you know, growing up, we were on the, like, my generation was really on the cutting edge of having technology being slowly introduced. But it's like that old saying, like, gradually than suddenly, how it's like things just kind of gradually trickle in. And then it just seems like all of a sudden, bam, there's just all these new ways to learn. And I think it's got to be a partnership between you and the faculty and the students to be like, you know, we can't just sit around and operate on live cadavers, for example, during the middle of a pandemic, you know. We've got to get creative with some of that technology. And we're not quite there with being able to just throw on a pair of glasses and live in a virtual world that we can get instructed in. But you know, it doesn't seem like that future isn't that far away.

Casey Gordon 17:17
Yeah. I mean, it's so challenging, because there's so many tools out there, and you can't do everything, right. And I think, also, the faculty were focused on, again, taking their 16 week course, and retooling it to fit in 4 weeks, without losing any of the quality of instruction. And that alone was a challenge. And then when you layer this on top and say, Now, you also have to learn how to teach in a hybrid classroom that has cameras and microphones, and you're going to have some students in person and some remote. Now, let's talk about other tools you might need. And all of sudden you have just this tremendous amount of technology that they have to deal with. And so support was so important throughout this whole process. We have some fantastic instructional designers that worked with the faculty to really help kind of usher them into what we were going to have to go through for this time period,

Tim Bornholdt 18:09
I would imagine that those instructional designers, it was just kind of like a, you know, maybe not a dream come true. It's never nice to make light of a global pandemic. But it's like, what a cool, unique opportunity to be able to design this kind of curriculum and be on the cutting edge of it. It's got to be, you know, exhilarating for them, at the very least.

Casey Gordon 18:27
Yeah, you know, the pandemic is not something any of us would wish on anyone, right. But it certainly did highlight the importance of those IT partnerships in a way that they just hadn't been. They've been important, but not that important, right up until that point. And so certainly, it was an opportunity for us to show the campuses how we could partner with them, and how we could help drive the mission of the institutions in new ways. So it was an opportunity in that respect as unfortunate as it was.

Tim Bornholdt 18:56
Yeah. I'm glad you brought up partnerships, because one question that I wanted to ask you was with, you know, your role is to champion all aspects of technology at the college and university. So that being said, there's a ton of stakeholders that probably all have different things and different desires and different demands. So how do you cooperate and get agreement from everybody and buy in to be able to push forward some of these tech initiatives?

Casey Gordon 19:24
I think there's really two things I would say around that topic. The first is, I think it starts with relationship building, before you ever get to the point when you need to get their agreement on something, right. So you have to have those relationships already established, that trust has to be there. And that comes from frequent communication with stakeholders. So whether it's the leadership or whether it's faculty or whether it's students, you know, those conversations have to be happening on a regular basis. Sometimes we send out newsletters to campus. We post things on our bulletin board app, you know, things like that, ways of really connecting, but also, you know, frequent meetings and talking about the initiatives that IT is working on, different ways that you can kind of get in front of people. And I should say, it's not just us talking about it. It shouldn't be a one way communication, right? It also should be us listening and then seeing that what they tell us helps drive what we're working towards, right. So you establish that trust by working together on those initiatives, and then also making sure that they know that they're heard and that their opinions and ideas are helping to inform the strategy for it. So that's kind of the first step, you have to build that relationship. And you have to build that trust. And that takes some time.

But then when you start to talk about that agreement and cooperation, right, you're going to a group, and you really need them to buy into a new technology that you're using, or something that you need to change. That's when you really have to start with the why. And I'm a huge believer in, I'm not sure if you've read that book. And I'm going to forget who wrote it. But I think it's called Start with Why. And it's so important to talk about why we're doing the different things that we're doing. It can't just be, Hey, we have to implement multifactor, because that is what other institutions are doing. Well, that is not going to get the agreement and cooperation that you might need. And multifactor authentication is an extra step, it's an extra layer. So things that might be harder for people, you even really need to go that extra step and say, se definitely need to talk about why we're doing this. Because we want to protect our students. And we want to protect our information. And we want to be good stewards of our data. And because it is best practices, and here's the examples where other institutions who haven't had multifactor may have gotten breached. And here are the financial ramifications of that. You really have to present all of the reasons why we're doing it, but bring it back to the students, right? How does it impact students? How does it improve our environment? And how does it improve our outcomes for the future of the business? I think if you can do those two things, relationship building and building that trust, and then making sure that you're wrapping all of these conversations around why we're doing it, I think it is so much easier to gain the agreement and cooperation that we need in order to move forward.

Tim Bornholdt 22:21
That was so beautifully said. I think a lot of times people really do think that the IT department, you know, lowers down these edicts from above and forces people into doing, you know, these, like, big brother type of surveillance things or whatever. It always feels like this adversarial relationship with a lot of IT departments and I'm really happy that you brought up those two points, because I don't think it needs to be that way. And I think a lot of things like, you know, two factor or like putting things behind a VPN, like, yes, these are things that are not the norm right now. They absolutely should be, I would argue, but they're not. So when you go and institute some of those programs that some might view as, like Draconian or, like, you know, Orwellian, whatever you want to say, it's more of like a parent relationship of like, you need to floss your teeth. You need to put on two factor authentication. These are all like just good hygiene things that you should do to keep ourselves safe.

And I agree with you, like first of all, establish relationships with people, but then once you've established that relationship, then come to them and explain it on their terms. Don't come and, you know, start throwing out VPN and two factor authentication, but but slowly bring them into your world and explain what these things mean. Then you get buy in way easier, as opposed to just kind of a top down, here's the law, deal with it. That's when you really start to, I've found, you know, run into problems.

Casey Gordon 23:56
Absolutely. You're so right on that.

Tim Bornholdt 23:58
So with regards to the mission of the university, obviously, it's all about, you know, getting these kids educated and productive citizens of society. What's your advice for ensuring an IT department will support that mission of either, you know, the institution in your case or just a company in general?

Casey Gordon 24:16
You know, I think that it starts from the leadership level, making sure that all of our conversations and all of our initiatives really wrap back around to why we're there, which is the students, right. It needs to help the students. It needs to drive that mission forward. I think for in terms of concrete advice, one of the best things I think I've done is encouraged my staff to do not just professional development around it, but also professional development around the field of higher ed and around the services that our students might be looking for. I think sometimes it's too easy to stay in our bubble and say, Well, this is the next piece of technology that's coming or this is what's coming next in my environment, right, or my particular set of technologies. Whether that's, you know, System Administration, or maybe that's networking, that's easy and comfortable and important, but what's also important is doing professional development that surrounds your actual field or your sector, your industry, right? So I think that when a lot of our IT staff go, and they start to do sessions that, you know, maybe it's EDUCAUSE because they go to a conference that has other things outside of just their area, but talk a little bit more about the mission of higher ed and where the industry is going, that's when I think you get this beautiful ability for staff to put some puzzle pieces together, right? They take all of their knowledge, say they're a networking person, and they can take everything that they know, and what they know is coming, and they can marry that together with what they know is happening in the industry. And that's where the magic happens, right? That's where you get the really great ideas for how you can impact students, and how you can do things that will really help move your organization in the right direction. So I think that it really comes from that encouraging folks to think both about the mission of the institution, as well as their IT sector. Does that kind of make sense?

Tim Bornholdt 26:11
100%? I mean, do you ever read, there's a blog called Farnam Street, have you ever read that?

Casey Gordon 26:16
No, nope.

Tim Bornholdt 26:18
I think you would really like it. It kind of goes into, they do a lot of like high level, you know, philosophy and things like that, but one of the one of the concepts that they champion is called mental models. And I talk about mental models all the time, but I think like, where basically mental models are looking at the world, you know, obviously from different points of view, and being able to put yourself in the shoes and process a problem through a different lens. And the more I think that, you nailed it right on the head with being able to not only understand your industry, if you work in IT, and you work with networking, that's great. Like you need to understand all the protocols and all the security mechanisms and everything that goes into it. But all of that is for nothing if you don't understand the industry that you're applying that trade to. So the more that you can get into the head of, you know, say like the finance people that are trying to balance a budget across this institution, or even, you know, take it down to like food service or any other aspect of what is going on in the University at large. The more perspectives that you can have, then the better you're going to be at applying those trades to those different problems.

Casey Gordon 27:30
Absolutely. And it reminds me of something that we sometimes use as a tool called journey mapping, which sounds a little bit similar to mental models. But basically you map the journey of a student. And you document that and you think about, What is their experience at this point and their experience at this point? And then where do they go next? And when you start to look at that journey that they're going to go through, that's when you can start to see the points where maybe there might be efficiencies that can be made. Or maybe technology could make this process easier or better. And so when you think about it from that perspective, right, what is that journey of a student look like, you are, just like you talked about with the mental models, better able to put yourself in the shoes of that student and say, What are the areas that we can improve for that student? What can we do to improve that student experience?

Tim Bornholdt 28:17
Yeah, I really don't think there's a better way to do it. I mean, if you're doing your job right, I think you got to know how to do your job, but you also have to be able to actually, if you want to excel at it, you know, be able to apply your particular skills to a problem. And we all work together. The IT department probably does not work in isolation from everyone else. Right? You exist to support everyone else and make sure that everyone can get their initiatives done, you know, efficiently but also securely.

Casey Gordon 28:43

Tim Bornholdt 28:45
Casey, how do you stay current on technology trends and everything that's constantly changing in the world around us, basically?

Casey Gordon 28:54
You know that's such a challenge, of course, because you always have to balance it with actually doing work, right. And so there's this expectation also that you have to stay up to date. Luckily, I think as many of us who work in IT, I love learning about technology. So I think that's helpful, right? Because when I'm at home in the evening, I'm blogging, I'm not blogging, I'm reading blogs or reading, you know, different sites like Engadget or Gizmodo, and looking at what's coming, following, you know, EDUCAUSE and Gartner and looking at what the trends are there. So I think a lot of it is research. LinkedIn is a great place to find things that other leaders are posting and kind of see what's coming. So I think a lot of it is that that research, right? There's also conferences, so I always go to the Gartner symposium every year. It's a great place to learn about what's coming and to hear about their top trends for the future, you know, what CIOs need to worry about or care about in the future. So I think it's a combination of a ton of research and reaching out to all these different sites.

And then also, you know, going to some of those experiences. One of the really nice things, again, the pandemic is not a great thing, but there are some benefits, and one of those is this virtual environment that is now spun up of all these different types of conferences and sessions. So I've been able to virtually attend far more than I could have gone to in person. And even when you're just sitting home and working on something, you can have a podcast or a webinar playing in the background, and you can be kind of doing both and multitasking a little bit. So that's been a certainly a benefit. I think that I've been able to take advantage of more of those things recently, because they're all virtual now.

Tim Bornholdt 30:37
Yeah, I think those conferences in the past year, it's been hard from a networking standpoint, but from a content consumption standpoint, it's definitely been way better. Because usually, I find myself sitting out at the bar and talking with people there than sitting in conference talks and absorbing the information. So I would agree, I think the virtual conferences have been, you know, problematic in some ways, but in this particular case of being able to stay up on the industry, definitely a pro.

Casey Gordon 31:06
Absolutely. And, you know, I'm a big fan of different types of books, too. And not necessarily technology trends, but you know, leadership trends, different things like that, you know. There's a wealth of different types of, you know, self help, I think they would probably classify it as, or leadership books or things like that that you can take advantage of, and, again, with less time to go out and actually do things because a lot of events were canceled, it was a good time to read as well.

Tim Bornholdt 31:36
Yeah, yeah. I wish I was more of a reader. I'm way more into like podcasts and, I guess, going to those virtual conferences, but do you listen to a whole lot of podcasts?

Casey Gordon 31:47
You know, I listen to the TED Talk ones, not the full ones, but I think I can't remember what they're called. But they're like shorts. So they're about 20 minutes.

Tim Bornholdt 31:56
The TedX?

Casey Gordon 31:57
Yes, exactly. And I listen to those podcasts on Spotify, and I love it because I can drive my kids to school and come home, and I've listened to one in that time period. And it's like, I have all this motivation for the day, right? It's an inspiring thing. And you do it right away in the morning, and you come away with some real, I think they always have real snippets of things you can apply to your daily life. So that's one of my favorite things to do in the morning.

Tim Bornholdt 32:25
Yeah, I agree. It's nice to, my kids are still at the age where they want to listen to like the Bluey soundtrack or like, Mickey Mouse or something like that. So at some point, though, in the future, when I'm driving them to school, I'll be able to actually pop open a podcast and they can, you know, zone out and do whatever they do.

Casey Gordon 32:43
Absolutely. We love Bluey in our house, too.

Tim Bornholdt 32:45
Ah, Bluey is a national treasure. It's not even our national treasure. It's Australia's national treasure.

Casey Gordon 32:50
It's a global treasure.

Tim Bornholdt 32:52
Yes, there you go. Yes, a global icon. I read somewhere, like if you watch that show as a parent, you really get to just empathize with the dad, who just like constantly gets beat up and humiliated and everything in public, but just for the love of their kid.

Casey Gordon 33:09
I know, my poor husband, he's like, Why is the dad always getting picked on? I just think it's funny.

Tim Bornholdt 33:16
It is. It's all in good fun. And you know, like that Dad, it's nice as a parent, you can kind of look at that show as like something to look up to and look just like when you're sitting and just clicking around on your phone and you realize that you're just like wasting time, instead of spending time with your kids right in front of you. You just sit and watch Bluey. And it's like, man, they do so much fun stuff. I should start doing that.

Casey Gordon 33:37
You know, honestly, I do think Bluey makes me a better parent.

Tim Bornholdt 33:41

Casey Gordon 33:41
Because, you know, it is easy to say, Well, you know, especially with this work from home, where you know, I can pop into my office and work anytime and all the kids are playing in the playroom, so I'm going to go ahead and just get a couple of things done in my office. It's perfect, right? Well, the challenge is, you know, then you're not spending as much time with your family. And I've heard that from a lot of employees who have said it's hard to have that work life balance when you have that remote office because you feel like you're always doing both. You're constantly having to deal with parenting issues. And you're constantly having to be available for work because it's there. Your office is right there in your house. And so I think, you know, taking a humorous cartoon, and thinking about it like, well, this is showing us a really good model that we do have to disconnect. We have to spend time with our families, even when it's hard, even when we could be doing something for work. So in that perspective, I think it is a good example of how we just need to enjoy life once in a while and say work can wait until tomorrow. I'm going to spend some time with my kids.

Tim Bornholdt 34:43
Yes, there was before Bluey, I was really into Daniel Tiger. And that was one of the like, that was like my example but it was kind of too, I don't know, too clean. You know, like, not everyone can be Mr. Rogers. Like that's a high bar for any human, let alone Fred Rogers himself, but like Bluey, it's, you know, the parents make mistakes. And they sometimes like, you know, you look at it from the parent's perspective, or you look at it from the kid's perspective, and I couldn't agree with you more about like how they do that balance of, you know, the dad has a home office, and he sometimes is there. And sometimes he has to go. And it's hard for me like, we have two kids, and we have three bedrooms. And we thought that we could, you know, share a bedroom with the kids. And they're five and two at this point. And that did not work. That was a colossal failure of an experiment. So my office turned into my son's bedroom. And so now I am kind of relegated to the kitchen table, which is not ideal, but you know, you do what you got to do to help your kids and provide a better life. And you're right. It's sometimes hard on certain days when you need to sit and focus and you know, record a podcast or something. And it's just like, Okay, everyone needs to go outside for 90 minutes. I don't care what you do, be with mom, when you come back then we can play. It's that kind of a thing. And it is a hard thing to balance. And are you back in the office full time now? Or do you also still kind of have to do that work life balance thing with the home office?

Casey Gordon 36:12
Yeah, so I am actually remote right now. I've been remote since last March. Basically, I've only been into the office probably a handful of times. And we have had staff on campus like the frontline staff, our help desk, you know, places that students really need to interact with throughout the school year. But the rest of our staff has been remote. We are going to be, I think, I believe the Presidents intend to move most folks back to campus around that July 1 timeframe, so that we can ramp up for our coming school year. So we're very close to the end of this remote time period. I was very lucky, my students or my kids are seven and nine. And they are both in a private school. And so because of that they've been in person almost the entire year. So I have had like a really good ability to get work done. But I know that that's been a challenge for a lot of parents who've had to juggle kids learning at home this whole past year, as well. And so that's something that certainly, as we move back to in person, we'll have a little bit, I expect a little bit better balance for a lot of our staff who've been struggling with that. But it also brings its own challenges. You know, some folks have liked working remotely. And so for folks who have enjoyed that, it's going to be a little bit of a hard adjustment to go back to the office after working from home for a year. So we're going to have a little bit of a mixed bag when it comes down to it, I think.

Tim Bornholdt 37:36
Yeah, it's just like, during the pandemic, where we had to constantly adjust what we did, I'm sure it's just gonna be like, take it day by day kind of a thing and ease our way back into what was normal before and find a way to hang on to the parts of the pandemic learning life that were good and get back to the parts that you just can't do remotely.

Casey Gordon 37:58
Yes, absolutely. It's gonna be like finding that whole work life balance all over again.

Tim Bornholdt 38:04
Oh, boy. Couple more questions for you. So I know that a lot of your job is a mix between, you know, maintaining infrastructure that you've got right now versus some of the innovation and transformation, the growth kinds of things, what maybe you would call the fun things, where maintenance sometimes isn't a whole lot of fun. So two part question, right now, what is your percentage of time that you split between those maintenance task versus growing tasks? And then after having that percentage, do you think that's the appropriate mix? And why or why not?

Casey Gordon 38:39
Sure. You know, and I think putting the pandemic aside, because that was a whole lot of transforming. Right? Not normally typical. So, on a normal basis, I know Gartner says that most institutions use about 66% they spend on maintenance or running the operation. And the rest is growth and transformation activities. That's their average. They actually recommend a 50/50 split. So they say we should be spending about 50% on maintenance, and about 50% on growth and transformation activities. That's their kind of recommendation.

However, you know, in higher ed, it becomes really challenging for a couple of reasons. Number one, because we always run kind of lean and and number two, if we're in a period of declining enrollment, that means we're cutting budgets instead of growing them. And so I think right now, we probably operate closer to 75 or 80% maintenance versus growth or transformation. It makes it very challenging to do some of those transformational activities. And as budgets get tighter, unfortunately, we often take from the grow transform, simply because we cannot take from the run, right, without shutting down entire services. And so it becomes a very big challenge.

One of the things that I would really like to do is be able to free up and get, you know, even if we can't get closer to a 50/50 split, I'd love to get more consistently to like a 70% run or maintenance and then having 30% carved out for that grow and transform. It is just such a challenge, again, when we look at shrinking budgets, and the pandemic exacerbated those shrinking budgets, right? We all saw some enrollment challenges, having to send students home, where we weren't getting revenue from their food, or from their housing. Those were all big challenges that we have to kind of come back from. So I don't think it's something that I'm going to be able to change overnight. I think it's going to be a process, and that the institution has to grow in order to get there, right, like, we have to see some increase in revenue in order to come up with that extra money. Part of it can be done, if you're able to think about that maintenance portion and do some things differently, create some efficiencies, but there's only so much you can do with that, right? You still need to look at what is the right spending that we need for it as a whole.

Tim Bornholdt 41:05
Yeah, it's hard, I would imagine, as things, you know, shrink, obviously, you can't spend the money. And I would also think that in your given case, we were talking a lot about how things are cyclical and ebb and flow, where not every day, and not every, you know, situation that you're in in your career is going to be in this like 85% maintenance mode. I mean, geez, we just got out of a pandemic, right, or, we're working our way out of the pandemic. So it's hard to be, you know, growth mindset oriented, but at the same time, you know, there's still opportunities here and there that you can make it happen. And I also think, a lot of times, people underestimate the importance of maintaining infrastructure, and everyone always wants to get the hot new stuff that's coming down the line. But, you know, a lot of times, we have perfectly good stuff that we have already being used that just needs a little bit of love and care. It's got to be tough from your standpoint, and just a never ending struggle of trying to strike that 50/50 balance, but realistically, you know, being maybe a little bit not in line with those with those aspirations.

Casey Gordon 42:15
Yeah. And I think it also comes back to taking advantage of the opportunities where they present themselves. So, you know, when you think about that, you know, maybe you've got some tool that is coming close to maintenance being due, right? So I think, for example, you know, maybe it's something like a learning management system or a CRM that you're using in one particular area. Or maybe it's a security tool that's going to be due at the end of the year. Well, can you do something different? Right? You have to look at that new contract anyway. So is that an opportunity to now take that and move to a different tool or adopt a different technology that might move it into something that would give you the growth or transformation? Right? So where can you take your maintenance opportunities, and transform them into a growth or a transformation activity?

So you know, for us if we're looking at a tool, and it served us, and it's okay, what if a different tool could move us into something that was more user friendly? Or that we could do XYZ extra things, right? So I think that if you look at those opportunities, and you say, Well, hey, yes, this is maintenance money and maintenance work, but at that point, if a transition is maybe going to happen anyway, let's use that as a way to springboard us into the future with some new functionality. That's a way that you can do things even if you have that limited budget that isn't changing, or that is shrinking.

Tim Bornholdt 43:40
I agree. It's all about being creative with what you got, and try to find ways to be transformative, even though you know, you might not get to be as transformative as you may want to be.

Casey Gordon 43:51

Tim Bornholdt 43:52
Last question for you. I'm sure you saw in Wired, they had that big story about the RSA hack from 2011. Did you did you get a chance to read that?

Casey Gordon 44:04

Tim Bornholdt 44:04
Yeah. I was reading through that last night. And I was like, man, how timely because I can ask you. So there have been some crazy hacks that have been happening lately. And your role as CIO, I would assume would encompass, you know, being able to protect against some of those hacks and some of those exposures. But being in an institution where you've got, you know, probably 100s of 1000s, maybe 10s of 1000s of users that are connected to your systems at any given point, there's a ton of possible, you know, vectors for attack, you might say. How do you work with young adults in particular, but also, you know, also some of maybe the older facultym for employing best practices when it comes to things like social engineering. I mean, you saw like that within that RSA article, the way that they first got the hack was through somebody emailing a spreadsheet that had just an innocent, you know, 2011 recruitment plan and somebody opened that up. And that was the vector for getting in and attacking and stealing the crown jewels, essentially. So the question, going back to it, again, is, how do you convince the people in your organization to employ best practices when it comes to social engineering?

Casey Gordon 45:20
I think that you actually have to break that into two parts. And so when you think about the young adults, and you think about our student body, you actually have to handle that a little bit differently than you think about faculty and staff. Right? So with students, you really have to meet them where they are for their messaging, right. So us emailing out all the reasons why they need to protect themselves is not effective. Students don't like to communicate via email. And they certainly don't resonate with, you know, a list of things that they should do. Or here's why you shouldn't do X, Y, and Z behaviors. What we found really successful with students is when the message is delivered from other students, right. So again, you know, getting back to that meeting them where they are.

We actually, a couple of years ago, we did a project with one of the communications classes. And in the communications class, we asked the students to break into small groups and make videos to talk about some of our new password policies and protecting the passwords. And at the end of that, the students all got to make these videos and do these presentations. And then we had actually videos that were produced by the students that had you know, cute, funny messaging, or whatever, you know, there was a variety of different ways that they presented the importance of passwords and protecting your password. And then that's something that you can then use to share with other students. And again, that message coming from other students is always going to resonate more. And again, it's video, which is always more interactive than an email. So I think there's a variety of different ways that you can connect with students. But I think it really has to come back to using and leveraging the students in your organization to spread the message with other students, because that's really some of the most effective.

When we ended up adopting multifactor authentication, one of the things we did was have some students that were early adopters, and they were almost like seeds scattered throughout the organization. And so when you fostered that early adoption, then they could talk about it to their peers. And they could say, Hey, have you done this yet? And they were like advocates for the multifactor authentication that were more effective than any faculty or staff could be in advocating this tool usage to them. So I think that that's really important when you think about the student body in general.

Moving into the faculty and staff, I would go back to, you know, what I talked about before, they want to know why. How you deliver the message is important, right? Videos and email and getting them on a variety of different formats is important. Making sure that we're posting about it on our bulletin board app, and that they're seeing it and talking about it in some of their meetings. So you want to hit them on a variety of mediums. But it's more important, I think, to really talk about why they're doing it, and why this extra layer is going to protect them. So those are kind of the two different ways I would approach it based on, or we have approached it, based on the different audiences.

Tim Bornholdt 48:17
Well, and I don't think that they weren't necessarily like exclusive either. I mean, I think the faculty wanting to know why is the same as the students wanting to know why. And I think, you know, you being in the faculty yourself, it's like your peers talking to your peers, where the students there's still kind of that student teacher, you know, again, not adversarial, but there's just a power dynamic, where a lot of times students are gonna sit there and question, Well, why is this important to me? You know, the value is clear to you, because you want to protect yourself, you know, and your job and your organization and all that good stuff. But why do I care as a student? So having the students be the ones to share messages from themselves as to why it's important and why you want to adopt best practices around security, it makes sense. It's like, you'd want to hear it from your peers and hear it from, you know, reasons why it would matter to a 19 or 20 year old, as opposed to why it might matter to, you know, somebody more our age.

Casey Gordon 49:17
Yeah, and you're right. There are a lot of similarities between how you would approach it with those two audiences. I think with students, they have so much information hitting them at the same time. And it's not intuitive, right? Like there's a lot of confusing information, like you need to register for classes, and, oh, you need to make sure that you don't have any holds on your record. And all of those things mean things to us who work in the industry. But if you think about it from a college student perspective, they don't really know what all of those things mean. And so if you hit them with this, oh, now you're going to do multifactor. They go, Well, what is that? I don't even really understand and why is it more important than the 10 other emails I got about registration and camps and, you know, whatever else they might be, study abroad and all of the other things that they might be dealing with. And so you know, I think that's where you can kind of, if you can leverage the other students to help with that messaging, it will make it more effective too because you're going to use language that they can understand and that means something to them, not language that means something to us. Do you know what I mean?

Tim Bornholdt 50:22
100%. And I think it can apply to, you know, any organization that might be listening to this. If you're trying to figure out how to help educate your own staff, or employees, or whoever you have as part of it, you know, take some of these lessons of meeting them where they're at and find a way to make the messaging applicable to them so that they understand, you know. Make it meaningful, not everybody consumes this information the same way. It's just like in education. You've got all kinds of different ways to learn things. And I think this is just another example of, you know, putting out reasons why people might want to jump into two factor authentication or why they might want to, you know, have not a password that is just the word password or just things like that.

It's amazing the amount of work that you have to do from your end, Casey, of just getting people to stay safe, and, they want to get their job done, but also do it safely. I mean, you've got a ton of work that you have to do, and I really appreciate you coming on the show today and helping to keep everybody secure over at St. John's and Saint Ben's. And is there any parting messages, anything you want to leave to the audience or just let them know, you know, how they could get in touch with you or learn more about all the cool stuff you're doing over at the university?

Casey Gordon 51:42
Sure. Well, I am on LinkedIn. So you can always find me there. And that certainly is a place you can feel free to send me a friend request on there, or connect, I guess it would be for LinkedIn. And I'm happy to connect that way. And I also will be presenting at, there's a women, it's called the Women of Influence Summit. It's happening in September here in St. Cloud. So if anyone's interested in that, I'm going to be a keynote speaker there. And that is in September. So Next Monday is the company putting it on, Women of Influence Summit. So if anyone's interested, you can find me there.

Tim Bornholdt 52:17
Excellent. Casey, thank you so much for joining me today. I really appreciate it.

Casey Gordon 52:21
Thank you for having me. This has been a pleasure.

Tim Bornholdt 52:24
Thanks to Casey Gordon for joining me on the podcast today. You can learn more about the College of St. Benedict and St. John's University at CSB SJU.edu. That's a mouthful, so we'll put that link in the show notes.

Speaking of those show notes, you can find them at constantvariables.co. You can get in touch with us by emailing Hello@ constantvariables.co. I'm @Tim Bornholdt on Twitter and the show is @CV_ podcast.

Today's episode was produced by Jenny Karkowski and edited by the bubbly Jordan Daoust.

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