Changing Landscape of the Education Industry

By John Ellinger, CIO of Bowling Green State University

John Ellinger, CIO of Bowling Green State University

How has the journey been so far in your career?

When I first started working I was engaged with the K-12 environment before stepping into the realm of higher education. The way things have worked out I often pinch myself to make sure it is real. When I took some of my high school students to state officer interviews at Ohio State, I chanced upon the director of the Student Union, whom I had known since I was an undergraduate student at Ohio State. He told me about a new position of associate director for the Student Union, and I was ready for a change. Three months later, I started working at Ohio State as the associate director of Student Union. Four years later, I became the director of Student Union after the retirement of our former director.

Fast forward five years, I came across another new position for assistant vice president of Agriculture, which was of interest to me because my degrees are in agriculture. I spent the next eight years as the assistant vice president of Agriculture, taking care of 2,200 employees, $200M in budget and 18,000 acres of land throughout Ohio.

“I believe that 10years from now, artificial intelligence will change higher education in ways never imagined.”

In 1994-1995 I had the opportunity to take two classes of students to China for a semester. While I was there, I received a call from the chief financial officer of Ohio State, and he offered me the position of director of the university's PeopleSoft project. My new journey commenced in November of 1995 and lasted through 2001 when the PeopleSoft Student, HR and financials were implemented for the entire university. Between 2001 and 2010, I was the senior director of infrastructure and Networking at Ohio State. In 2010, I started my CIO career here at bowling Green State University (BGSU). All in all, this has been an incredible journey with new opportunities throughout the way.

Where does your passion for the educational landscape stem from?

There is no better way you can change the lives of people than through education. Education is one of the fastest-changing sectors right now, and as it has undergone tremendous changes over the last decade.I have always been driven by a passion to work for people, throughout my career. What drives us the most is the fact that we are in the people business, not just the IT business. We are committed to solving the problems of our students by understanding students, their needs and the processes to tackle the issue at hand. Solving problems is basically what we fundamentally believe in.

How have you seen technology evolving in the education industry over the last few years?

Technology has evolved exponentially over the past 10 years, and it has had a massive impact on education and IT as well. The biggest challenge for me is to bring together artificial intelligence, machine learning, virtual reality and augmented reality to classrooms and into the hands of students. Much like in other industries today, automation plays an important part in education as well. I recall my first computer class, long ago at Ohio State, was mainframes programming and keypunch cards. The most intimidating experience was developing a program and getting it correct so that you did not have to search through the code for errors.

During my start in the agriculture industry, we witnessed the advent and implementation of technology at a global level that is still going on! After joining the Student Union, I realized that the number of daily building events was a major challenge because we had nothing automated. So, I hired two computer science students to program a VAX computer into the first multi-user event management system in the Union; it took them a year and a half to build. When I moved to Agriculture we had 2,200 salary increases to do manually. I went on to hire another student with knowledge of MS Excel to build a macro system. As a result, the processing became much more streamlined, and tasks were accomplished much faster. Eventually, Ohio State implemented that system throughout campus

While working with PeopleSoft, the team won the Computer World 100 Award in 1997 for implementing Citrix (thin client) to run 1,700 devices on our network. Since coming to BGSU, 67 percent of all our campus applications are in the public cloud. All remaining servers and storage, mostly PeopleSoft, are in Toledo and our DR is in Columbus. The cloud has made a massive difference over the years with the reliability and capabilities it brings to the table.

The pace at which new technology—AI, machine learning, augmented/virtual reality—is remolding every facet of the education industry is truly overwhelming. As such, it wouldn’t come as a surprise if 10 years down the line, teaching is enhanced or even replaced by robots. We are one of the five schools in the country to bring in an avatar teaching system called Mursion for first-year Education students’ experience. And I believe that 10 years from now, artificial intelligence will change higher education in ways never imagined.

What has been your secret sauce for success over the years?

Keep moving forward and exploring opportunities to bring about a positive change for people. One should be passionate about what you do. To elaborate, when I first joined BGSU, the majority of our work processes were manual. We were not integrating technology into the daily activities, and there was a continuous struggle to make the processes seamless. With a passion for making things right, we ensured the integration of technology to simplify peoples’ lives.

What advice would you like to give to fellow peers in the industry right now?

The best advice I can give is to never to stop learning regardless of your profession. It’s essential to keep improving with every possibility that crosses your path. Broaden your network and make stronger connections to be able to make the most of the opportunity that comes your way. One must not be afraid of failing; rather, we should learn from our failures and move ahead toward achieving greater things.

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