Sherry Lawdermilt – Bemidji State University
People may say don’t fix what’s not broken, but that isn’t Sherry Lawdermilt’s motto.
“Technology doesn’t always need to be solving a problem,” says the chief information officer at Bemidji State University. “It can also just make life easier or open up new avenues.”
For instance, each semester, students at BSU, located in Minnesota, pay approximately $125 in technology fees. A committee, comprised mostly of students, makes recommendations to the IT department on what to do with those funds. It recently requested access to LinkedIn Learning to supplement classroom learning and career readiness.
Opening up a new area of learning for students through technology, Lawdermilt and her team are planning to roll out LinkedIn Learning in the spring 2023 semester.
On a wider scale, she carefully considers whether or not to upgrade systems. For instance, BSU may be using a legacy system for promoting student success that works well and meets the school’s needs. However, if the vendor releases a new system, it will no longer create updates for the old one and BSU would be stuck using outdated software.
That’s why BSU began shifting towards the cloud a few years ago—a project Lawdermilt has taken over since being hired in March 2020.
“While we’re always updating and evolving, our recent approach has been a cloud first mentality campus-wide,” she says. “Cloud-based apps and other programs allow my department—and others, including teaching assistants to tenured professors—to more easily manage systems and data, which frees us up to tackle other urgent tasks.”
Clouds and clean slates
Lawdermilt is currently leading the movement to a cloud instance of JAMF, a management and security system for Apple devices that allows IT to remotely update and manage BSU’s Apple laptops and mobile devices. This is essential for security, she says, as the campus has had more of an emphasis on hybrid work over the last several years.
She and her team are also working on migrating the Carousel digital signage system, which updates students about news and events across campus, to the cloud. Having Carousel in the cloud will be more secure and make it easier for content creators to make edits and refresh messages.
“It’s all about using the right technology and the right digital tools to offer our students—and anyone else on campus—the best experience possible,” Lawdermilt says.
Moving forward isn’t always about updating programs and software; sometimes it’s about starting from scratch, an approach Lawdermilt took with the IT department when hired.
She wanted to implement a new help desk ticket system for students rather than trying to improve the existing infrastructure. In the new system, students can request IT help online when, for example, the mobile printing system isn’t working.
She and her team are currently in the process of implementing a new system called Slate, a customer relationship management tool from Technolutions that is designed for admissions departments in higher education. Before choosing this system and signing the contract, Lawdermilt worked with other CIOs across the Minnesota State system and internal BSU departments, such as admissions. According to her, the system allows BSU to implement customized workflows and processes for outreach to incoming students.
Collaboration is particularly important for her because BSU provides shared services to Northwest Technical College and is part of the , which includes 37 institutions —and she regularly meets with the CIOs from all of them. These conversations have led her to upgrading BSU’s online service desk as well as implementing the Student Success Solution program that allows faculty and advisors to easily provide feedback online to students.
“Everything my team and I do revolves around creating a better quality of life for every person on campus,” Lawdermilt says.
She’s particularly proud of the grant program she helped launch during the pandemic. Through this program, BSU and NTC have been able to provide laptops and stipends for data plans and hot spots to meet the technology needs of underserved students.
From the Marines to mastering degrees
Although she’s spent the past decade of her career in higher education, Lawdermilt didn’t even have plans to attend college.
She joined the United States Marine Corps right out of high school. Between September 1988 and October 1995, she lived and worked in North Carolina, Arizona and Okinawa, Japan.
In 1997, a flood wiped out most of Grand Forks, North Dakota, affording Lawdermilt an opportunity with the city government handling documentation related to insurance and funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
She stayed with the city for 16 years. During that time, she earned an associate degree in applied sciences, computer programming, and in 2009 earned her bachelor’s in management and computer information systems from Park University. In 2013, a year into earning her MBA at the same school, she became the director of technology for the vice president of finance and operations division at the University of North Dakota.
“It was like taking on an entire city, so the experience with Grand Forks helped a lot,” she says.
In 2020, she was hired as the CIO at Bemidji State and, a few months later, obtained her doctorate in higher education administration from the University of North Dakota.
“Throughout my career, from the Marine Corps to universities in Minnesota, I’ve seen my role as a collaborator and a facilitator,” Lawdermilt says. “I ensure the right solutions are in place, and I do that by talking to everyone from staff and professors to the students.”
View this feature in the Spring I 2023 Edition here.
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