Linda Szalankiewicz – Holyoke Community College
With the cost of tuition rising year after year, more students are looking for a way to jump-start their education without the hefty private university price tag. Holyoke Community College (HCC) in Massachusetts is a top regional choice for students looking to transfer to a four-year institution, gain skills to enter the workforce, advance a current career or discover a new opportunity. With more than 6,800 commuter and online students, HCC is helping students achieve personal and professional goals through leading instruction, interactive learning and cutting-edge technology.
Currently in the midst of a $43 million expansion effort to renovate and revitalize the main campus, HCC has renovated two buildings — CHE (home to the College of Health Education) and a new culinary-hospitality facility called the CUBIT building. HCC has also performed many technology upgrades in the last several years, including virtual desktop integration (VDI), new wireless systems, more standardized, user-friendly classroom technology and a data center renovation.
30-plus years of experience
Behind this effort is the school’s information technology (IT) department and Linda Szalankiewicz, chief information officer at HCC. Linda has been with HCC for more than 30 years. “I’m actually an alumna — I attended HCC and then transferred to a private college, just like many students do now,” she says. “I graduated in 1984 in what was then a brand-new field of study: CIS [computer information systems].”
Linda took a job as a programming analyst at HCC right after graduation. “I moved up to a systems analyst and then was asked to do interim CIO. From here, I moved over to institutional research, which was really interesting because it gave me the opportunity to see the college from a user’s perspective and help with HCC’s NEASC accreditation,” says Linda. “I was eventually asked to come back to the CIS department and I took the CIO position about five years ago.”
Today, HCC has more than 369 employees and Linda works with 18 IT department professionals. The last couple of years have been busy for HCC’s IT team as the department works to update older buildings and improve on existing infrastructure. “We have rolled out VDI systems, so instead of having to replace a whole computer lab, we can keep the shell and push it out from the server side,” explains Linda. “This is a little more money upfront because you have to have the infrastructure in place, but it allows us to push out an image within seconds — machine to machine all the way around. We can put the latest software on every computer in the system in one step without having to visit 1,500 separate computers.”
New standardized systems and facilities
Linda and her team have also presented a new classroom technology plan to HCC’s board of directors. “Technology is just something that’s expected in the classroom today, but our job is to make sure this helps our faculty members do their jobs,” she explains. “We have integrated the same room-to-room technology so they don’t have to learn a new system; a faculty member can go into any classroom and hit the ground running. We have designed each room with universal hook ups so you can use a Mac or PC and now all of the controls are in the walls so no one walks off with a remote clicker.”
Linda says her department helps support HCC’s goal of being a one-stop shop for all services, from online learning to admissions, campus life and more. The IT department will soon be integrating systems throughout HCC’s two new additions, the CHE and CUBIT building.
“CHE will house our nursing and X-ray technology programs,” says Linda. “This is one of the more unique buildings in our area; not many other community colleges or schools have the same capabilities.”
The CUBIT building, scheduled for January 2017 completion, will house all culinary and hospitality courses, dining serves and state-of-the-art classroom collaboration centers. “This building is moving downtown, away from the main campus,” notes Linda.
HCC is also ramping up its online education programs. “We’re offering more online video help to give students step-by-step instructions on how to set up a login and account access for myHCC online courses and we’ve set up eTutoring, offering online tutoring for online students through Northeast eTutoring Consortium,” says Linda.
Linda and her team turn to other industry professionals for ideas and to discuss shared challenges. “We have a CIO council group that meets once a month,” she says. “This statewide organization helps us share insights and see what others are doing.”
Finding a way to improve existing systems and integrate easy-to-use technology into new buildings is no small task, but Linda says it’s been really rewarding to watch how these efforts positively impact students and professors. “Watching how technology helps students interact with their professors is the most fun, and seeing them transform — that’s what makes it worthwhile,” she says.
As Holyoke Community College continues to grow its reputation as a steppingstone to four-year degrees and greater career opportunities, Linda Szalankiewicz and the IT department continue to facilitate this process with outstanding classroom technology and support.