Allen C. Saylor Jr. – Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College
Like so many other schools, Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College hadn’t focused much on remote education prior to COVID-19, but it’s been making strides since.
“The world changed, and we had to adapt,” Allen C. Saylor Jr. tells Toggle this past fall from the Tifton, Georgia, campus. “COVID hit us hard but we’re making sure instructors have the resources they need to reach out to students.”
With a small student-to-faculty ratio, the personalized approach can be furthered by technology, assures Saylor, who has spent the last decade on the ABAC infotech team, the past year as an assistant vice president of IT and chief technology officer. Last May the role of chief information officer was added to his letterhead, following the predecessor’s retirement, making Saylor the highest-ranking member of the IT team.
While students have been back in their classrooms since the start of the new academic year, there are provisions for them to stream lectures, as well as access remote sites. It’s all been part of a comprehensive IT upgrade, he explains, with a slow but steady transition to the cloud and managed services.
Solutions in the cloud
The cloud will go a long way toward approaching all goals, Saylor says while lauding the companies he’s enlisted.
“Partners, that is, not vendors,” he emphasizes. “I don’t look for vendors. I want partners who will establish a relationship with us and deliver the most value. We’ve brought on a bunch and they’re doing a great job.”
QuickLaunch SSO helps ensure security with its one-stop identity and access management platform crafted for higher education and small and medium-sized businesses. Coursedog manages scheduling, events, curriculum and catalog management in one program, and Howard Technology Solutions to create a state-of-the-art audiovisual-rich environment.
Such a defined approach also guards against what Saylor views as the overwhelming of students. Today’s young people can be so bombarded with information that he says they’re often numbed by an excess of it. A quick, even instant, response being desirable, he and his partners are assembling a chat bot that will deliver the most specific answer to an inquiry.
As those amenities fall into place, Saylor talks excitedly about how ABAC—his alma mater—is committed to optimize technology in agriculture, the state’s most profitable industry, with peanuts and cotton among the crops for which ABAC has a particular interest.
The school is affiliated with an entity known as Georgia’s Rural Center, which is at the forefront of efforts to build healthy and vibrant rural communities. In addition, ABAC has a 400-acre working farm on campus, a 1,000-acre teaching forest, and a 9-hole golf course nearby. There’s no better way to learn forestry, agriculture and turf management than by being hands-on and using technology, Saylor says.
On the horizon is a building specifically designed for precision agriculture. Groundbreaking may have to wait a couple years while the details are finalized, but he envisions a complex with multiple monitors in each classroom. Saylor also is quick to say that ABAC offers more than ag-related degrees with curriculum in arts and sciences, business, and a sought-after nursing and health sciences program.
He knows business
The business curriculum originally attracted Saylor to ABAC in 1996, but the more he learned of that subject, the more he realized of infotech’s expanding role. He combined his business courses with networking, computer programming and business software applications, and a part-time job as a computer lab assistant.
“During that process I determined what I wanted to do: be in the IT world,” he says. “And to teach.”
As a student, he taught the basics of computer science to senior citizens and has never really stopped. He’s taught at multiple schools in Georgia and elsewhere, including an 11-year stretch at Moultrie Technical College with additional roles at ABAC and East Central Technical College for part of that time.
Even today, he’s able to combine his ABAC responsibilities with online, part-time roles as a visiting professor at Southern New Hampshire University and DeVry University. Because IT is such an evolving subject, the curriculum gets more complex with most courses in data privacy and security says Saylor, who enhanced his credentials in 2006 with a master’s in IT at American InterContinental University.
Much as Saylor enjoyed teaching, he says the opportunity to be part of ABAC’s data team was too good to pass up. Coming back as a programmer in May 2012, he ascended the ranks, becoming chief technology officer in 2018 and having the title of assistant IT vice president added to his letterhead last February followed by CIO in May. Cybersecurity having been part of his earlier roles, he’s hired a full-time chief info-security officer.
“I would not label anybody as safe from being targeted by hackers,” he says. “It’s very important for any school to safeguard sensitive information. That’s among the reasons for us moving to the cloud.”
It is a time-consuming and complex process, but all part of the fun of being the tech boss at an academic institution in the sunny south that’s always been home to him, wife Joann and school-age sons Justin and Jason.
“I owe so much to my wife,” he says. “She really pushed me go for that degree.”
And they both encourage the boys to join them in spreading goodwill. The Saylors are active at the Northside Baptist Church; he works with children in grades one through 12 while Joann works with children up to age 5.
The extracurricular activities dovetail with his duties at ABAC.
“This is the school from which I received my associate’s degree and worked as a student,” he says. “ABAC started my career and now I’m in a position to do the same for today’s students.”
View this feature in the Winter I 2022 Edition here.
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