May 18, 2020

As Telecommuting Support Continues, Thomas Takes Inspiration From His Office Wall

THANK YOU: OIT's Michael Thomas keeps the cards and notes he's received over the years as a daily source of inspiration.

WHAT HELPS Michael Thomas handle daily tech challenges during the global pandemic?

He says there’s a cluttered wall in his office that inspires him.

“To motivate myself and my team, I created a wall of thank-yous in my office, where I post thank you cards and notes I have received over the years,” said Thomas, who is director of educational technology and client services in CGU’s Office of Information Technology (OIT). “I look at this wall every day.”

For many, 24/7 doesn’t just refer to the experiences facing medical professionals or drive-thru restaurants. OIT’s support of the university’s sudden and urgent transition to remote learning and work has become a new way of life.

The team has been working tirelessly to create and conduct workshops for teaching online, taking an asset inventory for moving off-campus, and ordering stock where there were deficits.

WORKING 24/7: From top left: Nasir Hakeem, Thomas, Sheila Reeder, Jason Jones, and Manoj Chitre. The OIT management team sets up on Zoom to go over strategy to offer their services for the greater CGU community in the shift to going online. “Since this crisis began encroaching on CGU’s community, the recognition by CGU’s faculty and staff has drastically increased,” says Thomas.
Not pictured: Sunny Chau, Stuart Fermenick, Steven Klarin, Cherene Kwek, Greg Mefford, Ricardo Montiel, Carlos Noriega, Luke Olfman, Shervon Thomas, Maria Skilbred, and Don Weissinger.

Alongside Thomas in OIT is Sunny Chau on the Academic Technology team; Sheila Reeder, information systems application supervisor for the Administrative Computing team; Luke Olfman, senior technical support specialist for the Desktop Services team; and Nasir Hakeem and Jason Jones, senior systems and network administrators for the Technical Services team.

Manoj Chitre leads the office as assistant vice president of Finance and Administration as well as Technology Services and Information Systems.

Fluid, flexible, and ready for the unexpected

As he looks at how quarantine is affecting the way people conduct business, Thomas says his 14-year tenure at CGU prepared him for a moment like this.

“Much of the work I’ve done over the years has led to something this significant,” he explained. “Once the decision was made to go remote, the challenge became time.”

With that, the office had to act quickly. Thomas’s role has been fluid, ever changing to meet the needs of the university community.

With fluidity, however, come waves.

“I helped maintain support for people on campus leading up to the transition, but it was not without its challenges,” Thomas said.

While managing CGU’s academic computing needs, he also oversees audio/visual and computer labs, remote and on-campus help desk and desktop services, the Digital Learning Lab, the MyCampus portal, and other systems. It’s a full load that has put him and OIT into overdrive.

“I literally wake up to work and work until I fall asleep,” he said.

Michael Thomas (left) and an integrator, Kevin Hartranft from Ireland Sound Systems, finishing up an installation in the Board of Trustees Room in Harper Hall. While some heroes wear capes and others wear scrubs, this one wears a polo.

Speed and nimbleness

So how has OIT been able to keep up with the demand, especially in the early weeks of quarantine?

Thomas credits CGU’s nimble size and institutional preparedness for timely mobilization to going virtual.

“The faster the organization can move, the better,” he said. “Though CGU’s academic computing and user services areas are quite small, we were already doing much of this work already with the infrastructure in place. Whether the need was for learning tools like Canvas or Zoom, or for remote help desk support, the groundwork was already established.”

Thomas, who holds a master’s degree from Cal Poly Pomona and doctorate from USC, both in education and instructional technology, multimedia creation, and university decision-making, believes his training to be among his most valuable assets in leading a team.

“CGU would be in a very strenuous position right now without OIT’s support,” he said. “My goal has always been to provide the very best experience in whatever CGU is doing, and that hasn’t changed.”

Thomas’s chief word of advice for everyone is to stay grounded as much as possible during stressful times.

“Now that we have overcome the initial hurdle,” he explained, “getting back to the work of the university is important, while still being practical.”

Once the frenetic work pace slows, Thomas said he’s looking forward to staying in touch with his family in the U.S. and in the Philippines, while continuing to pursue his hobby: Japanese drumming.

“Before all of this,” he said, “I would spend about 20 hours a week teaching or playing Taiko. I’d love to get back to it.”

Read more stories of “CGU Heroes” here.