This summer, the Operational Excellence website is featuring a series of staff spotlights: stories about staff members who’ve taken on new leadership roles since the implementation of OE2C and are helping bring more innovation and efficiency to campus operations.
Before coming to SMU in 1999, Jason Warner was a teacher who began infusing his teaching with technology in innovative ways that improved students’ learning and piqued the interest of his fellow teachers. His work in that role laid an early foundation for his most recent career advancement as director of SMU’s Academic Technology Services.
Academic Technology Services (ATS) is a newly reorganized and unified division of the Office of Information Technology (OIT) created through OE2C’s Shared Services Initiative. It specifically focuses on enhancing academic teaching and research with innovative technology solutions throughout campus. As leader of that division, Warner oversees a team of “technology change agents” who work alongside faculty and students in each academic unit.
“I am grateful to have been given the opportunity to rethink, reorganize and launch an entirely new SMU model for providing academic technology services,” says Warner. “Those used to exist in isolated pockets and fragments across campus. I’m proud of the progress we’ve made unifying IT services, especially those serving our faculty, which I believe continue to pave the way for more rapid and consistent growth and innovation in both instructional and research capabilities.”
Before the Shared Services Initiative, Warner served as the director of technology for the Meadows School of the Arts, where he managed a broad portfolio of technology services and solutions that were critical to Meadows faculty. Warner says, “As part of Shared Services, the academic technology support model we employed at Meadows became the blueprint for creating our new SMU Academic Technology Services team. Now, each school has its own tech facilitator and director who manages the school’s strategic needs and serves as the liaison between the school and SMU OIT.”
Warner’s transition into his new role has, he says, been a work in progress. “I’ve had to learn more in the past few years than I’ve had to learn throughout my entire career. In order to make progress, I have had to be willing to let go of and throw out comfortable models and methodologies. I’ve learned how to be a better manager and to rely more on metrics and data instead of anecdotes and emotions. I’ve worked to develop my own knowledge and experience so that I can serve SMU more effectively. Most importantly, I’ve learned to extend grace as people wrestle with change and I’ve learned how to ask for grace as well.”
His learning in the new position has had a great effect on OIT and SMU. In less than two years, Warner built a team that is able to manage and assist academic units while at the same time participate as a cross-functional campus service team. During the transition, his team successfully helped SMU migrate from Blackboard to Canvas and created an annual program to survey faculty and students to better gauge technology performance and needs. He worked with the Academic Technology Council, a faculty committee, to develop a groundbreaking classroom technology prototype experience that will launch in the fall and has overseen the project from its inception. “Above all,” Warner says, “I’m proud that our team is able to help faculty and students by providing sustainable, reliable and innovative technology for teaching and research.”
Grateful for the opportunity to grow in his career and excited by the prospect of working with Dr. Michael Hites, SMU’s incoming chief information officer, Warner has big goals for SMU’s academic technology. “ATS must provide and support the platforms and foundations for growth in hybrid and online learning to help SMU reach existing and new communities of students and learners,” he says. “We need to create and maintain clear paths for transformative research in areas such as high performance computing, digital humanities, and geographic information systems, and into new realms of scholarship not yet explored. My greatest goal is to ensure that OIT can continue to deliver technology solutions that address the needs of academics – and that continue to adapt and change along with those needs.
“Technology isn’t an end, especially academic technology,” says Warner. “Technology is a rapidly moving vehicle, a powerful tool that enables specific ends and outcomes. At the end of the day, my career and my passions are devoted to the achievement and facilitation of academic outcomes. Fortunately, I geek out about the technology as well. I have the best job on campus!”