Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Cheese is coming

my tartan: the Duke of Fife, modern
When I moved to Morris in 2010, I wanted to find a way to connect with campus. The IT Director / Campus CIO position had been vacant for several years, so most of the students, faculty, and staff were unaware of my role and how I can help find the right "fit" for campus technology.

But my challenge was How do I introduce myself? You can throw a party, but it's pretty sad if no one stops by. Instead, I needed to find a "hook" to interest people.

I looked to history for my inspiration. In 1837, President Andrew Jackson's supporters gifted him with a wheel of cheese weighing 1,400 lbs. Jackson put this cheese in the Entrance Hall of the White House and invited the people of the United States to come into the White House and eat the cheese, and thereby meet the people who represented them in government. According to White House history, the cheese was consumed in two hours, and the White House smelled of cheese for weeks. You may have heard this story in TV's The West Wing, and it was a real thing.

I decided to host my own "Big Block of Cheese Day," to invite the campus community to share in a wheel of cheese, and thereby meet the person who represents their campus in technology. Food attracts people, so I was sure to get some folks to stop by. But an IT guy handing out food will only get you so far. So I drew on my English-Scottish ancestry, and decided to wear my kilt. An IT guy wearing a kilt was sure to advertise itself. And it did!

The first "Big Block of Cheese Day" was a great success. We shared a 12 pound wheel of cheddar and discussed campus technology: what people were using, how they were using it, and how I could help them in new technology. I ran out of cheese after only two hours.

Based on the success of that event, folks asked if I would do another "Big Block of Cheese Day" the following year. So I did—and again, it was a huge success! Even more people stopped by. I also shaped the event by asking passers-by to comment on a "hallway board," where they could suggest a technology need they would like to see addressed on campus. If they didn't have time to write on the board, they could instead put a "star" next to an item they liked. This hallway board formed part of our IT Input Cycle, which we continue to leverage every year.

As things go on a university campus, if you do something two years in a row, it becomes tradition. I have hosted a "Big Block of Cheese Day" every year in the Fall. Students comment that "Cheese Day" is a lot of fun. From my end, it's great to meet people on campus. And I love the opportunity to solicit ideas and "needs" via the hallway board.

This year's "Big Block of Cheese Day" will be on Friday, October 31—Halloween! Join us in the Student Center next to Higbies, from 10:00am until noon. We'll have a big wheel of cheddar and crackers. While you're there, drop a comment on the hallway board. To get the conversation going, we'll start the board with the five IT priorities identified by the TechPeople community of practice group. And yes, you'll get to see me in the kilt.

I hope to see you there!
image: Jake's Direct

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