Stephen Hunt – Queen’s University
He told them to call someone on his IT staff.
That’s because getting such passcodes is part of the services Hunt and his team provide as he leads IT and facilities management teams within a decentralized campus.
As senior director, Hunt’s job title appears to be unique—the facilities responsibilities don’t require him to manage the HVAC systems for Queen’s Engineering and Applied Science buildings, for instance.
But he anticipates the decentralized model will be the wave of the future as he and his team of 18 oversee the facilities and technology for labs—everything from managing building access to ensuring the right software is installed in robots.
“It’s a rational thing to do because facilities is so automated,” Hunt says. “We build on what lab and computer technicians do because they know what’s going on in labs. We work with our centralized counterparts who focus on campus in general while engineering focuses on what’s unique to them.”
Working on the edge
Queen’s University was established in 1841 in a royal charter issued by Queen Victoria (Canada wasn’t granted federation status from Great Britain until 1867). The university opened on March 7, 1842, in a wood-framed house with two professors and 13 students.
In 1869, Queen’s University became the first Canadian university west of its Maritime Provinces to admit women and began offering correspondence learning in 1889.
The university currently has an enrollment of more than 31,000 students, including 4,000 international students from more than 100 countries. There are more than 790 faculty members instructing in more than 150 graduate and undergraduate programs.
Queen’s University is also part of the U15 Group of Canadian Research Universities, an association dedicated to helping advance research and innovation policies and programs. Those universities train almost 60 percent of Canada’s full-time graduate students while attracting 77 percent of government research funding and performing $835 million of research for businesses.
Hunt was one of the forerunners in the decentralized model in IT. It emanated from his work helping integrate a new enterprise learning management platform when he joined the university in 2010.
“Collaborative decentralization allows people on the edge to be innovative,” Hunt says. “I can try something as a pilot and if it succeeds, it may get adopted throughout the rest of the university.”
Putting pieces in place
For instance, Hunt and his team integrated Moodle’s open-source—no licensing fees—learning management system in 2009. He says it was the first LMS used widely at the university and it provided engineering students with lesson plans, course materials, quizzes and grades. Moodle was soon in use throughout the university.
However, Hunt says engineering department instructors also needed to make skills-based assessments by testing students on completing tasks and needed a LMS that could better accommodate the assessment process. They implemented Brightspace to replace Moodle, and that, too, has gone into wider use at Queen’s University.
After the COVID-19 pandemic closed the campus, Hunt and his team had to scramble to support virtual instruction and learning, but he says that scramble wasn’t as frantic as might be imagined because he and his team had added Zoom and AppsAnywhere in 2019.
Zoom was being used in a limited fashion—faculty communicated with each other and had meetings using the platform, and it became the venue for online classes. AppsAnywhere was implemented in response to the fact that students were using their own devices in classes. It created a “web-based app storefront,” Hunt says, where students could download the apps that were compatible to Macs or Windows-based devices while the university controls the licensing and access.
Students and instructors have largely returned to campus. As Hunt notes, studying engineering is better done in-person because it involves design and lab work such as soldering and assembling components with students working in small teams. Zoom still supports meetings and remote work options, and AppsAnywhere is used for student-owned computers and lab and staff desktops.
As Queen’s University increases its outreach to Indigenous peoples and women to make careers in engineering, Hunt and his team have helped set up the Wi-Fi and devices in the “Tinker Trailer,” a rolling lab with robots and video screens that’s taken to schools to encourage students to pursue science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, studies.
“Our Indigenous communities have a rich history in engineering that’s not always understood,” Hunt says. “And those communities need engineers to work in areas such as wastewater treatment and other infrastructure.”
Embracing the model
Hunt, who started his IT career in education before moving to the advertising industry, likes to joke that he’s working his way around Lake Ontario. He was born and raised in St. Catharine’s, which is close to Niagara Falls, and earned a bachelor’s degree in computer science from Brock University of St. Catharine’s in 1986.
From 1987 to 1998, Hunt was an IT consultant and eventually director of IT and chair of the department of computer studies at Ridley College, the secondary school he graduated from in 1982.
After serving as Toronto-based national director of IT services for DDB Canada, a national advertising network, from January 1999 to July 2009, Hunt joined Queen’s University Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science as IT director. He was named to his current position in July 2019.
“Having the team integrated has increased efficiencies and has allowed us to provide better service to the students, faculty and staff,” Hunt says. “I think our success will lead to more departments integrating IT and facilities in the future.”
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