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The Source

People Profile: Brad Wilkin

December 02, 2008

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Lewis & Clark is honoring five staff members for their dedicated years of service, including Brad Wilkin, director of information systems, who has been here for 20 years. The Source met with Brad to find out what makes him tick.

What do you like best about your job?

I enjoy technology and seeing how technology changes and improves, but I could have those aspects of my job anywhere. What I like best is Lewis & Clark. I am a 1988 undergraduate alumnus, so I admittedly have a connection here that I would not at another college. I love the natural beauty of the campus. I’m energized by the return of students each fall. It’s a bit strange to think that our first-year students weren’t born yet when I started working here. I appreciate that many other staff and faculty view what they do professionally here as a contribution to the enrichment of our students’ experiences and academic growth much like I do.

How has IT changed in the last 20 years? How has that affected what you do?

One of the things I enjoy most about working in Information Technology is that the industry is constantly reinventing itself. When I started in 1988, we used a “store-and-forward” e-mail system called BITNET. E-mail transmission depended on a network of computers that passed along messages to their closest neighbor over a phone line. A message traveling from LC to SUNY would pass through many, many computers and if any of them was down, all messages that had to go through it were delayed until it was running again. Sometimes it took a week or so for a message to get from sender to recipient. Now, messages are delivered almost instantaneously. The minicomputer system we used for administrative computing (Colleague & Benefactor) was about 5 feet high, 10 feet wide and 4 feet deep and had less computing power and less storage than my iPhone. Anyone who needed to connect to it basically had a cable that ran from the minicomputer (in the basement of Albany) to a terminal on his or her desk – that’s a lot of cable. Now, all of that communication (and much more) can be carried on a single strand of fiber-optic cable. Few had heard of Microsoft Windows in 1988. There was no web and no such thing as a PDF. These examples are typical of the magnitude of change that we’ve seen in that time.

If you were given an unrestricted budget and unlimited resources, what would your department look like in five years?

Why? Are you saying you’ve got connections? Let’s talk! I would hire more staff, but not too many – maybe two in Information Systems. Our group could better support the campus with more bodies. This is true for other areas of IT as well, of course. We need more space, preferably a facility where we can all be geographically together. IT is a little too spread out right now and it is more difficult to collaborate than it should be. More storage. More bandwidth. Wireless everywhere. I’d like to take additional steps to make sure our critical data and other assets are protected in the event of disaster. I’d like to make it easier to use our campus information systems, especially with regard to reporting needs. I might like to fit a respectable rollercoaster in the plan somehow. You said unlimited, right?

What kind of non-tech-related activities do you pursue outside work?

My wife, Debra, and three children keep me occupied and entertained around the clock. All the kids play or have played soccer, which has kept late summer and fall overscheduled for around ten years now. My oldest is a high school sophomore and the others are in sixth and fourth grades, so schoolwork takes some time and effort on evenings. Sunday mornings are dedicated to church, and afternoons are spent together biking, at a movie, or just relaxing at home – often baking cookies. For about a year now, my wife and I have been taking ballroom dancing lessons on Sunday evenings – date night. Our strong preference is for Latin styles, especially the rhumba. For books and movies, I gravitate toward mystery and science-oriented fiction, but not particularly science fiction. Think Crichton. I also sing.

What strikes you as the most unique moment in L&C’s history since you’ve been here?

In terms of “uniqueness” and not so much of significance, the day news broke about Monica Lewinsky was an interesting one. Members of the news media were all over campus, and it became my immediate priority to make sure that personal information about her in our systems was not compromised. The campus did an admirable job amidst the frenzy. There have been scores of occasions and stories much more worthy of public attention with respect to geckos, spiders, accreditation, new buildings, and many talented people. Personally, notable moments at LC include my marriage to Debb in Flanagan Chapel in 1996, her graduation from the MAT program in 2005 and a few memorable lunches with William Stafford in the late 80’s.

What did you aspire to be when you were a kid?

I’m pretty sure that my first aspirations were to deliver mail to Mister Roger’s neighborhood. I thought that would be a most perfect job. My father was an electrician and my interests followed in that direction for much of my childhood. I loved electronics – searching the house for objects that conducted electricity, constructing “alarms” to keep siblings out of my room and my stuff, and trying to make things fly using battery-powered motors.