Graduate Students Learn about IT Leadership in Higher Ed

By Jordan Thomas, MS in the Management of Secure Information Systems ’15

Marilyn Smith, vice president for information technology and chief information officer at George Mason University M. Smithspoke to graduate students in the Management of Secure Information Systems and Technology Management programs in early October.

With a $40 million budget, Smith oversees and directs Mason’s central IT infrastructure, resources, services and people. “George Mason University is a partnership that includes its 11 colleges, faculty, administrators and multiple campuses…and managing IT is critical to the university’s mission,” said Smith. “Success [of IT] is based on our partnership with the Deans and department heads of the colleges, Administration and the Provost’s office.”

Smith said the immediate priorities for the IT department are to:

  • automate student enrollment,
  • strengthen the IT security environment and
  • put in place an IT governance system that enhances decision-making and increases transparency.

At the same time, the IT department is challenged to reduce expenses without sacrificing quality of service for Mason’s 34,000 students and 6,400 faculty and staff.

In many ways, the responsibilities of Mason’s IT staff are similar to those of technology professionals in other industries–managing data centers and networks, customer service and updating security applications. However, Mason’s 240 IT employees also support higher education-specific functions that incorporate technology into the classrooms. Mason’s Blackboard is one example of academic computing.

Marilyn and her staff will be working with the Provost’s office to develop a “digital strategy” that will define how the university will incorporate information technology into its delivery of education in support one of the goals of the university’s strategic plan.

In her concluding remarks, Smith shared the following list of “Top 10 IT Issues in Higher Education for 2015” that was developed during a recent national education conference:

Hiring and retaining qualified staff, and updating the knowledge and skills of existing technology staff

  1. Optimizing the use of technology in teaching and learning in collaboration with academic leadership, including understanding the appropriate level of technology to use
  2. Developing IT funding models that sustain core services, support innovation and facilitate
  3. Improving student outcomes through an institutional approach that strategically leverages technology
  4. Demonstrating the business value of IT and how IT can help the institution achieve its goals
  5. Increasing the IT organization’s capacity for managing change, despite differing community needs, priorities and abilities
  6. Providing user support in the new normal — an environment rich with mobile, online education, cloud and BYOD
  7. Developing security policies for mobile, cloud and digital resources that work for most of the institutional community
  8. Developing an enterprise IT architecture that can respond to changing conditions and new opportunities
  9. Balancing agility, openness and security

Prior to joining Mason, Smith was the CIO at MIT where she developed and implemented IT governance, and strategic roadmaps for the university. “In partnership with Deans, faculty, students and administrators we automated many business processes including online registration, grading and transcript ordering. Smith joined Mason in her current position in 2013.


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Mary Crowson

Mary Crowson is a program operations specialist for the Research Partnerships and Grants Initiative within George Mason's School of Business.

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