Jeffrey Smith – Atlanta Technical College
The 11 buildings on the Atlanta Technical College’s campus offer students and faculty over half a million square feet in which to study, work or simply relax. In addition to the 307,000-square-foot Academic Complex building, the campus has green spaces with park benches to enjoy a warm, breezy Georgia afternoon.
Yet, these spaces aren’t at their full potential without internet access. So, in 2020, the college started looking for vendors to increase accessibility and range—and a director of information technology to helm the project.
Jeffrey Smith was an interviewee and gave some advice based on his two decades of experience. A couple weeks later, he was hired. Before any work started, however, he made certain to speak with ATC’s faculty, staff and students to understand what they required and wanted for a better educational and working experience.
Based on their responses and his professional assessment, he helped choose vendors and then, over the past three years, led the on-campus IT team in upgrading much of the college’s internal digital structure. Utilizing Cares Act funds, he also worked on rewiring the entire campus, which he finished in 2021.
The rewiring project involved upgrading the internal network with new switches, routing capabilities and endpoints to increase network accessibility across the campus—think access to the internet in all parts of a building. He and his team ran cables through the campus to 2,400 endpoints like desktop computers and printers. The network now also has 90 switches and 120 access points, nearly triple the prior amount.
The goal is to continue increasing these switches, access points and endpoints, so someone sitting in their car in the parking lot or working in an outdoor lab can use the same strong Wi-Fi people have access to in the main buildings.
“This rewiring and upgrading project is something that was on my mind since my interview with Atlanta Technical College, and I’ve really enjoyed working on it as we continue to digitally enhance the campus,” Smith tells Toggle.
Empowering students across power lines
Increasing internet access is critical to providing students a path to educational success—and some fun as well, Smith says.
His goal is to expand the classroom spaces to the entire campus, including green spaces. As far as he’s concerned, if internet access is broadened so the Wi-Fi signal is as strong on the lawns as inside the Academic Complex, then students can do more outdoors, including learn, sign up for classes, peruse upcoming events or simply chat with their friends.
In other cases, the lack of internet can cause difficulties. For instance, the college has a program through Georgia Power for line workers. Students are trained to climb power poles, and the company hires them at the end of the program. However, no internet is available where the power poles are located, which can be a hinderance if an instructor wants to share a video of a procedure or a student wants to look up a tool online. Smith is hoping to have internet there before the fall 2023 semester is complete.
Sometimes, internet access is absolutely essential, he says, such as with the program for future emergency medical technicians, which has an ambulance outside its building. Faculty and students walk through training scenarios out there. While they currently have limited access to internet through mobile hotspots, they’ll soon be able to connect to the school’s network once Smith is able to finish expanding it.
“We want to create the best possible experience for everyone on campus and internet access is a major key to providing a comfortable, enriching learning environment,” he says.
He and his team have also set up virtual labs, so students can practice online from home instead of always having to come to campus.
As for future projects, they’re increasing the number of printers across campus and making it easier for faculty and students to send a printing job from their phones or other mobile devices and pick it up from the nearest printer at their convenience. They’ll also be handling all the wiring and digital needs of the community business center ATC will be building this fall; it will provide resources, training and classes.
“We have a dynamic campus with so many wonderful programs, and my team and I work hard to make those run smoothly on the digital side, something at the forefront of my mind since I first spoke to ATC,” Smith says.
From interviews to increasing internet access
When Smith was on an interview call with ATC in 2020, he couldn’t help but provide some tips. Learning from the hiring committee that ATC was in the midst of a bidding process for rewiring the campus, he told them to be wary of certain companies and to ensure vendors met state requirements for specific projects.
He also warned about reading and understanding warranties carefully. In a prior role, he’d worked with a cabling manufacturing company that required training on properly installing its cables before it would issue a warranty. He also suggested ATC ensure the vendor’s cables and services were both insured and that the company was bonded, meaning it ensures the vendor will comply with the government-issued contract and has the financial means to successfully complete the project.
Smith also provided insight on how to route cables and suggested conducting an internal survey to ensure proper cooling and ventilation is available in potential installation areas.
Although he’d never worked on a campus, his expertise working on IT infrastructures at a variety of companies, including trucking and transportation ones, was evident. So, the hiring committee took his words to heart, made notes—and then hired him so he could oversee the project.
He says the Project Management Professional certification he obtained in March 2018 also helped him shape the project and collaborate with other departments.
“I have enjoyed maturing the IT function here and am excited to get more involved with the operations and business side of the college, so I can continue increasing my positive impact on thousands of lives and providing the digital tools everyone on campus and the surrounding community needs to succeed,” Smith says.
View this feature in the Fall I 2023 Edition here.
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