Talking with Tina Pappas, Educause Rising Star Award Recipient

Catching up with a fellow Leading Change Institute graduate.

October 30, 2019

Tina Pappas, associate director, innovation and technology, at Rutgers University, is the 2019 recipient of the Educause Rising Star Award. I got to know Tina through our participation in the CLIR and Educause-sponsored Leading Change Institute, class of 2017.

Tina graciously agreed to answer my questions.

Q: First, congratulations on being named the 2019 Educause Rising Star. That is amazing and quite an honor. Can you talk about some of the work at Rutgers that you’re leading that Educause highlighted in choosing you to receive this prestigious honor?

A: Thanks, Josh. It is truly an honor, and I am so humbled by the experience.

The work highlighted by Educause demonstrates my keen interest in fostering partnerships across institutions, and in particular, building communities through informal leadership. For example, at Rutgers University, there are over 1,200 IT employees geographically dispersed throughout New Jersey working in over 80 different and typically disconnected organizations.

I’ve done a number of things to connect the workforce. One of the more impactful activities has been growing the use of Slack as an informal communications hub -- a virtual water cooler, so to speak. It’s pretty exciting to see some folks (who have never met) organically developing relationships with one another, forming ad-hoc communities of practice and emerging as resident subject matter experts.

Another key initiative has been developing an IT employee onboarding program recommendation for our senior vice president of information technology and CIO. That proposal includes a critical component: a self-paced new employee orientation online course. It’s the first and currently only institutionwide resource designed to formally acclimate new technology staff to the vast and complex IT environment at Rutgers. The orientation course coupled with localized onboarding processes can transform the acclimation experience for new staff.

My community-building efforts extend beyond Rutgers, too. I’ve helped shape a few initiatives in Educause with a particular focus on young/early-career professionals. These include the Young Professionals Committee, the Young Professionals Community Group and the Ambassador Program.

Q: Can you talk about your ultimate career goals? What would be your ideal job? If you were to wave your magic career wand and create your own career path, what would that be?

A: I love the higher ed space, so it’s not a stretch to suggest that I may be a lifer in the industry. I aspire to ultimately hold an institutional level position, C-suite or otherwise, where I can leverage my strengths for maximum impact. I expect that career steps along the way include opportunities to do my best work through more formal positions with broader reach and scope.

For example, I recently transitioned from working in a professional school to a campus-level role. My experiences thus far have broadened my career goals to look beyond IT. Much of the work that excites me these days is trending towards human resource management and communications.

Q: OK, time to give some advice. You served as the chair of the Educause Young Professionals Advisory Committee and as co-chair of the Young Professionals Community Group. So you are thinking about the career path of early- and midcareer higher ed IT professionals. What advice would you give someone who would like to build a career, or who is just starting out, in higher ed IT?

A: Hmm. I think my primary advice is applicable to more than just higher ed IT; it’s career development 101. Focus on building your brand, and yes, I know how cliché that sounds! As I navigate every next stage of my professional life, the quote “perception is reality” resonates so much.

The fact is that first impressions matter a lot, because there are many encounters where we just don’t have the luxury of time to demonstrate our best selves. If you can be intentional about the impression you give in the first few minutes of an interaction, you’ll find your brand will sort of establish itself. A good habit is to think to yourself “how would I like to be described?” and consider if you act and speak in ways which would support that impression.

Q: Having done the Leading Change Institute (2017) with you, I think I may know the answer to this question. Tell us something about you that you are passionate about besides higher education and technology.

A: Well, Josh, I consider myself a collector of fine art … in the form of shoes! At some point in my postcollege life, I developed a strong affection for high heels, and now it’s become a creative way to express myself. I’ll admit though, rockin’ stylish shoes with a baby in tow as a new mom has me reconsidering my choice of art.

On a less whimsical note, I really enjoy event planning, actually. It delights me to create memorable experiences for people. I’m a very meticulous person, so thinking through the smallest details about how to design a comfortable and engaging atmosphere for a wide variety of people is fun for me.

What do you want to ask Tina?


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