Scott Conrad – Santa Rosa Junior College
As director of information technology (IT) at Santa Rosa Junior College (SRJC) in Santa Rosa, California, Scott Conrad is responsible for providing the data and communications infrastructure necessary to help students succeed. With over 30-years of private sector experience and a doctorate in education, Conrad brings a unique perspective to his role with the community college.
SRJC is a large and nontraditional campus with over 30,000 full and part-time students. Founded in 1918 as a feeder school for the University of California system, over 70 percent of student body holds jobs while completing their studies.
With a staff of 45 at his disposal, Conrad has managed SRJC’s network, 1,800 student access computers and enterprise software since taking the job in 2009.
SRJC is split between two campuses; a 100-acre site in Santa Rosa and a 40-acre campus in Petaluma. As an institution aimed at preparing students for in-demand careers and transfer to four-year institutions, SRJC operates a Technology Academy for technology workers and a Public Safety Training Center that provides instruction and field training for police officers, paramedics, firefighters and other emergency response personnel.
The school also operates a culinary arts center and a 365-acre organic farm in Forestville, California, where students can gain hands-on experience in skills related to agriculture, grape production, wine making, beer brewing and food production in the college café which serves food grown mostly on the SRJC farm.
Gaining private sector experience
Conrad began his career at Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP) where he spent 11 years as a manufacturing engineering manager. This role allowed Conrad to gain intimate knowledge of the company’s products and prepared him for his next role with the technology forerunner; when he spent four years as HP’s sales development manager for microwave test equipment.
In that job Conrad created a sales development team, created computer-based training and sales tools and managed dozens of global, multimillion dollar deals that allowed his team to grow its sales by 50 percent in just three years. After proving himself in the sales development realm, Conrad was promoted to engineering manager where he would spend the next 18 years.
While Conrad worked at a number of different companies before arriving at SRJC, he credits his time at HP with preparing him for the role of director of information technology. “My time at HP affects how I work now,” he says. Conrad grew up professionally with HP learning the HP Way and managing by wandering around. At HP, managers were taught to “catch people doing things right” and recognize them for it on the spot. “I used to block out 30 minutes a day to wander into my employees offices and ask them what they were doing and listen. I still do this at the SRJC and find I learn new things with every visit and learn more about my employees to more effectively support them,” he says.
After arriving at SRJC, Conrad almost immediately began to notice the differences between the world of public higher education and a tech giant like HP. “In colleges things work a lot slower and projects move at a different rate. I’ve had to learn to back off my expectations and spent more time reaching out and communicating with all the stakeholders involved,” he says.
As director of IT, Conrad has overseen a firewall update and a core server upgrade that increased the school’s network from 1 to 10 gigabytes. Conrad recently helped craft a $410 million bond proposal that includes $75 million for technology needs over the next 15 years.
He found himself particularly invaluable to the institution in 2014 when the State of California began to seek bids for a statewide learning management system (LMS). Having written his Ed.D. thesis on the barriers to the adoption of a statewide LMS, Conrad was able to offer crucial guidance as part of the process which is helping the state to adopt the Canvas platform, over 70 of the 113 community colleges in California are already adopting Canvas.
The school is now working to improve its web presence with a migration to a Drupal-based platform. The open-source content management framework is giving SRJC’s website a more modern look and feel while enabling Conrad’s IT team to easily spot compliance issues. “People have been trolling college websites and suing them for not being accessible, but with Drupal you can use add-on tools to check for compliance with accessibility guidelines,” says Conrad.
As part of the school’s 15-year strategic plan, Conrad’s team is participating in an effort to design and build eight modern, learning spaces that include combinations of the latest in classroom innovation including smarts TVs and teleconferencing. Different types of classes will be taught in the model classrooms over the next four semesters, after which results and feedback will be compiled and the leading designs will be implemented on a larger scale.
The classrooms will not only allow the school to experiment with the new technology, but also work to increase collaboration between students with features like portable desks. “The biggest challenge with students isn’t that we don’t train them well, it’s that we don’t teach them how to work together,” he says.
It’s not only the student body that is demanding the latest technology but increasingly, staff as well. Conrad says there is a generational change going on throughout the campus, with 30 percent of SRJC’s tenured faculty retiring within the last three years and being replaced by a new, younger workforce. “The new faculty are millennials and they use technology in the classroom and expect to have wireless everywhere,” he says
As technology continues to rapidly evolve, Conrad is left to consider the effect it will have on the future of higher education. “We’re going through an evolutionary change. When I did my research there was an article from 1920 about how technology, like the postal system, would destroy education,” he says. “Ultimately technology will evolve, but fundamentally education won’t change.”
While Conrad’s role with SRJC might not include the jet-set lifestyle he enjoyed at HP, the IT director says he enjoys the change of pace. “When I was an international sales manager I was on the road every day. Now I can ride my bike here every day. It’s a beautiful environment and beautiful campus and I get to help people achieve their dreams,” he says,
With years of industry experience and an academic background in the intersection of technology and public institutions, Scott Conrad, director of IT at Santa Rosa Junior College, will continue to provide the technological solutions necessary to foster collaboration and succeed in high education.