NATS turns 30

Saving your life and your hard drive

Joseph Lovercheck, Staff Writer

One of the most important organizations on campus is one most people know very little about.

The fact that we know very little about this group would make sense if it was recently created, but this organization is 30 years old.
The Network And Technology Services (NATS) team is something that Wayne State College couldn’t live without.

NATS is the group that does most of the technology-related work around campus.

John Dunning, NATS’ Chief Information Officer, says his main purpose is to make sure that the IT functions of WSC are running the way that they should.

“That includes everything from internet access to security to Wildcats Online to desktops on campus,” Dunning said.

NATS was started when the campus opened its first computer lab back in 1986. Before it was officially called NATS, one faculty member worked part-time to build a platform for “academic computing on campus.” That individual was Dennis Linster.

When the workload became too heavy, Linster hired a couple of student workers. In fact, Dunning started working for Linster in 1990 as a part-time student worker.

Today, there are 13 full-time employees and about 15-20 student workers, depending on the year.

In its vision/mission statement, NATS is described as the IT Service organization at WSC that provides reliable, trustworthy support for the campus community.

NATS has definitely been keeping busy this year.

“We just finished up the copy/print initiative, the Papercut Project,” Dunning said. “We are still working on fine-tuning some building pieces to that, but by and large we are done.”

Another big project they are working on currently is the electronic door access.

“The physical install for electronic door access is done,” Dunning said. “We will turn that up for residence halls and select academic buildings in the fall. So you will be able to get into a building with your campus ID card. You will still need a room key for your personal room, but you will not need to have an exterior door key for your residence hall.”

Yet another project for NATS is the implementation of Office 365.

“That will have some nice changes for students in terms of email,” Dunning said. “That will also mean that every student will receive a copy of Office 365 on up to five personal devices. So you can have it on your phone and personal laptop and whatever else, you will have that as long as you are a Wayne State College student.

“Eventually, we will be looking at one drive storage in the cloud for personal documents and things like that.”

NATS will replace the videoconferencing infrastructure this summer. They will install Zoom Videoconferencing in the Cloud, which has the potential to have a really great impact for students because, hopefully, WSC will be able to combine that with the Sakai Leaning environment.

“Theoretically, you could videoconference with your advisor if you were an off-campus student, which could be really nice,” Dunning said.
Another project dealing with faculty and staff would be two-factor authentication. This is common with Facebook and Google. If you log in on a new device, it sends a text message asking if that was a valid log-in. This project would help to better protect student data.

WSC is working with the University of Nebraska to put in place perimeter network scanning and interior network scanning tools. This would help the school find weakness in the system before the wrong people find them. After these weaknesses are identified, the system can be taken down or patched up.

“We need to do whatever we need to do to make sure our systems are safe and secure,” Dunning said.

Dunning also said that there is currently no work being done to turn e-campus or Wildcats Online into an app. He said there is no demand for an app, but rather using something called responsive web design. This makes it so that there isn’t an app that you have to install necessarily, but the webpage will show up nicely on your phone or tablet.

“If you look at it, actually senses what size the picture on whatever browser you are on,” Dunning said. “It then adjusts its layout to accommodate that much space. That is called responsive web design. What we are going to do is work with the college on implementing e-campus and Wildcats Online to a responsive design.”

Using the survey it sends out every year, NATS can adapt it to student needs. It was realized two years ago that printing was a major issue and concern of students. Three years ago, NATS realized that WiFi in residence halls needed to be expanded. NATS uses the feedback gained from the survey to determine what the group’s priorities are.

NATS would not be able to do nearly as much work if it weren’t for the student workers.

Students work for NATS throughout the school year as well as during the summer, usually averaging around 20 hours a week, alongside a full class schedule.

Curtis Rubeck is one of 19 current student workers. Rubeck is a senior and has been working at NATS since August 2013, which is when he transferred to Wayne State from Central Community College-Columbus. His degree will be in Computer Information System with an emphasis in networking.

A typical day for Rubeck begins around noon.

“I sit down at the computer. Log in, and open up my email,” Rubeck said. “Usually there are requests in my inbox for equipment moves, equipment installations and service requests. We run a Trouble Ticketing system here. So whenever someone calls in with a problem we submit a trouble ticket. That is how we keep track of each incident on campus. In addition to opening up my computer, I check out Trouble Ticket to see if there has been anything assigned to me.”

Rubeck also said that one of the most common problems, until recently, was with printers. He laughed as he mentioned that they do not have to do work to fix printers any more. He also said he fixes a lot of classroom problems, like the audio system not being as loud as it should.

Rubeck said that, although he is not allowed to reset passwords, this is one of the most frequent requests that NATS gets.

“When I came to WSC and met with my advisor, it was suggested that I try to join NATS,” Rubeck said. “I was kind of fixed on joining NATS: it’s on campus, technology, support, IT work. I have to get in there.”

Rubeck said he works anywhere from 25 to 30 hours of work a week, along with his 12 credit hours of classes.

Nick Muir is the Director of IT User Support at NATS. He has worked at NATS for 15 years: two as a student worker and 13 full-time. One of Muir’s responsibilities is to make sure that projects are moving forward at the pace they should. He also tries his best to remove roadblocks for the team and puts out “fires” as well as keeping the team moving forward.

One example of a “fire” would be coming in at 8 a.m. and learning the internet is down. Muir emphasized how important the internet is, mentioning that since students are paying for it, there should be availability 24/7.

“On a daily basis, it’s communicating,” Muir said. “I’m always running around somewhere, on the phone, trying to coordinate communication between campus and [NATS] for either a project or a major incident. I also try to balance priorities between projects.”

“I don’t know what normal is,” Muir said. “A big project that I am on right now is the Library project. I am the IT contact. Anything that is IT related, like cabling purchases, I help manage the IT budget for all the equipment that is going into the library.

“Another big thing I do is fill in for John [Dunning], being the IT representative at meetings when he is off campus. While he is out, if there are meetings on campus that need to be attended, I’ll be there.”
As Muir has worked his way up the ladder, he has had many job titles, but they all have had something to do with the help desk.

“I had plans to get out of Wayne,” Muir said. “I went to Wayne High School, and I went to Wayne State because of the value. I ended up getting a really good scholarship. The value you get from WSC, compared to the cost, has always been good. I still to this day believe that. I had plans to get out of here after graduation [from WSC], but there was an opening. I thought I’d stay for a while, get my foot in the door. But I’m still here today.”

Muir emphasized the importance of the students, saying without them, there is no Wayne State. Without them he doesn’t have a job. That is something that he constantly reminds the student workers he supervises.

“In the back of my mind, I want to make sure we are putting our efforts towards things people have value in,” Muir said. “If it’s not valued, why waste the energy?”

Muir talked about how over the last few years, they have been splitting the Help Desk into more than one role. This helps each member focus on a smaller area and therefore be more efficient at fixing problems within that role. They have also helped to prioritize and categorize problems.

“Something that we have been taking great pride in changing is that we used to have a ‘floodgate.’ Basically, how we assigned work was just like a floodgate,” Muir said. “They were getting jobs from their email, Darin [Bargholz], as well as myself. It was really difficult for them to prioritize, unless they asked.

“As a student worker, working 20 hours a week, it is very difficult and wastes a lot of time if they have to figure out priorities for the first 15 minutes. We split that up into different roles.”

One of these roles focuses on the cable infrastructure. NATS works with the cable/fiber around campus, doing everything from installing to repairing it.

Another role is the call center worker. One emphasis in the call center is to provide excellent customer service, to both people who physically come in and people who call in. A skill that is often learned at the help desk is separating the “critical priorities” from the jobs that could maybe wait a few days.

There are also student technicians. These are the people who will go out and actually respond to the physical problems on campus. They are the ones who respond to Trouble Ticket. If there is a computer that needs services, it is likely a student technician who will be the one who is performing those services.

A fourth role for student workers is venue support. These are the people who go out and work in the field to help stream football games to the TV channel in town. It is their job to make sure that a stream is set up so that the video feed can be seen on the internet.

The final group is PC deployment. Basically, this group is in charge of taking all of the new equipment that arrives and installing it. They put it into an inventory and make sure everything is running correctly. These people also work at taking old equipment and putting it through the process so that it can be recycled properly.

“We strive really hard to provide good customer service,” Dunning said. “What I have found is that when students are frustrated, that if they come talk to us and we have a conversation to try and fix the problems, most of the time they are pretty happy.

“The situations I see where students are frustrated typically result in folks who have a problem don’t give us a call. This means we have no opportunity to try and work it out with them.”

Dunning said NATS is open almost 48 hours a week, and the email for the help desk is available 24 hours a day.

“We are pretty diligent about getting back to people,” Dunning said. “We pride ourselves on that. We really want to work with the students to make sure the technology is working well for them.”