Behind the Scenes at the Spring Student Symposium

Brian Foley is a Senior Technology Specialist in Information Technology Services. He has worked for Middlebury since October 2006 and hails from Burlington, Vermont. Here he reports on the annual Spring Student Symposium in response to Literatures & Cultures Librarian Katrina Spencer’s questions.


Prepping a computer for the Spring Student Symposium

Hey, Brian: How many Spring Student Symposia have you been involved with?

I’ve been involved with this event since the 2nd annual Student Spring Symposium, 2008.

What is your role in the planning of this event? (Are you a “behind the scenes” kind of guy?)

If I’m lucky, I’m only behind the scenes, which I’m happy to say … my luck has held out over the years (knock on wood).  If I have to get involved on the day of the event, it’s usually to smooth out some technical issue with a classroom or presentation.

My primary function is to prep the computers that will be used for the presentations.  With Brett Wells (this year’s symposium co-worker), we will configure the Mac and Windows laptops that will be used in the classrooms. Also making sure that the necessary software is installed on all the systems and testing the network connectivity.

We also work in conjunction with Shel Sax (Director of Education Technology, CTLR) to deploy the presentations on the computers, targeting the presentations to the specific room.  Shel also does most of the organizational prep-work for the Symposium, along with Colleen Norden (Coordinator, Undergraduate Research Office & Fellowships, CTLR).

How has this event evolved over time?

In 2008, it was just another staff member, Dean Cadorat (now retired), and myself handling the most of the IT needs.  Back in the day, we ran around and loaded the presentations on the 4 classroom podium computers in BiHall (MBH-104, 216, 219 & 220).  It would take 1-2 hours just before the start of the symposium on Friday.

Now, ten years later, it has grown and evolved.  What used to take an hour or so is a multi-day preparation.  We used to have to only load the presentations on four pre-deployed podium computers — now not only do we use the four original classrooms, but we deploy Mac and Windows laptops in six other locations as well.

From such a modest beginning, it’s become quite an impressive production, with exceptional presentations.

Your office is in the Davis Family Library and I know various librarians staff the event by moderating panels, as I did last year. Can you tell me how additional library staff support this event every year?

Typically, I receive help from my compatriots here in the ITS Service Requests department.  It changes from year-to-year, but this year Brett Wells was a primarily responsible for getting the Macbook Pro laptops ready for the classrooms and then deploying them on the Thursday prior to the event.

Other folks who help out include:

  • Digital Media Tutors: these folks help the students with their presentations, acting as troubleshooters and/or “best practices” consultants prior to the event.
  • ITS Media Services department: this group has a large role in keeping the classroom AV equipment in good health and making themselves available on the day of the event in case of technical difficulties
  • Other Service Requests staff: my colleagues here help during the event itself by acting as tech backups on each floor and maintaining a presence for secondary troubleshooting in any classroom that requires it
  • And as I mentioned previously Shel Sax & Colleen Norden on the over-all organizational side of things.

Outside of the Davis Family Library, I know there are a lot of other departments that contribute to the Symposium.  For example:

  • Facilities sets up all the rooms, including poster preparation in the MBH grand hall
  • Food Services prepares and serves food
  • The ITS Network team makes sure the wired & wireless network is functioning correctly
  • And of course, the professors & students themselves, who obviously have to put in work & hours to make the symposium a success.

I’m sure I’m leaving out people that deserve some recognition in this regard.  My apologies if I’ve missed anyone!  Overall, it’s a lot of effort from many people and College departments to ensure the event goes smoothly.

Are there any future adjustments you’d like to see? In terms of scope? Featured events? Tech? Media? Services?

Good question!  Regarding changes to the preparation for the event, from my perspective it would be beneficial to have the Thursday prior to the event reduced to a half day of classes.  I know this is probably unrealistic, but it’s always been difficult to get into the rooms on that day in order to setup the computers.  I think next year we’ve already blocked out the open times so that professors are not scheduling exams on that Thursday in those rooms, so hopefully that will address this issue.

Some of the presentation rooms need some configuration changes (layout & tech) to better meet the needs of the presenters, but I know that this is also “in the works” for future Symposiums.

As for the presentations themselves, they cover quite a large scope of topics.  I’ve found them to always be enriching and engrossing, even entertaining!

Thank you for your service, Brian!