The University of Michigan welcomed Ravi Pendse as its vice president for information technology and chief information officer on August 1, 2018. Michigan IT News sat down with him to learn more about our new VP and discuss what brought him to Michigan, his initial areas of focus, and how IT enriches the university experience.
What attracted you to U-M, and what aspects of your new role excite you the most?
U-M is an amazing, world-renowned public institution. Its scale is quite impressive, with so many top 10 programs, and it is one of the most highly respected institutions of higher education. I am a product of public education, so my heart has always been with public institutions. I decided long ago that if I ever left Brown, it would be for a public institution. When the opportunity at Michigan surfaced, I was absolutely interested. During the interview process, I was so impressed with the colleagues I met, the campus, the people in the community, and the leadership. I felt like it was a terrific fit, where I could truly add value. I have really enjoyed my time here these past couple of weeks, and I look forward to meeting so many more of you across the IT community and beyond.
What is your approach for learning about a new organization, and what have been some of your first steps here at Michigan?
My approach to learning new things has always been that I see a teacher in every person I have an opportunity to interact with. Whether it’s our students, our staff members, or faculty colleagues, there is so much we can learn from each other.
It has been great to see so many teachers across the university, throughout Michigan IT, and even throughout the city of Ann Arbor. In my opinion, one can learn a lot through meeting and interacting with people. I have participated in meetings, forums, receptions, meet-and-greets, and simply said ‘hello’ to anyone and everyone who would talk with me.
My wife and I recently moved here from Providence, Rhode Island—after living in Wichita, Kansas—and I didn’t realize how much I was missing the midwest until I moved to Ann Arbor. The genuineness, openness, and loving nature of people has just been so refreshing. My wife and I absolutely love it.
In your experience, how do IT staff enrich the university experience?
For any institution of higher education, and especially the University of Michigan, our core mission is about creation of new knowledge, sharing of knowledge, and archiving knowledge. Research done by our amazing faculty in collaboration with our students (both graduate and undergraduate) and staff creates new knowledge. Sharing of new knowledge occurs through teaching and learning, scientific publications, the books we write, the plays we develop, and so on. Archiving this knowledge is critical so that future generations can benefit from it. This core mission, which Michigan does so well, is all supported and enhanced by technology. Our goal for Michigan IT should be that anywhere in the world, anytime someone asks which institution of higher education uses technology most appropriately, we would like Michigan to be number one on that list.
Our goal for Michigan IT should be that anywhere in the world, anytime someone asks which institution of higher education uses technology most appropriately, we would like Michigan to be number one on that list.
In many cases, IT colleagues also help create new knowledge, in areas like the Internet of Things. Innovative IT staff members are so critical to our mission. Information technology experts are a critical resource for any institution that wants to be relevant in the 21st century.
What role do college and unit IT organizations play in supporting your vision of IT?
In supporting the competency of our institution—creating new knowledge—we are really stewards of enhancing our world. This is supported by every person that is part of U-M. So, when I look at unit or central IT groups, I see them as extensions of each other, as collaborative partners, and as teachers for each other. Only by working together, and by supporting each other, I believe we will be able to continue to enhance information technology at the University of Michigan.
Often times I see emerging technologies and innovative ideas originate from unit IT groups, and the role of central IT is to support that and help scale it for the entire enterprise. Other times, innovation may come from central IT, but in partnership with our IT colleagues across campus. I consider central and unit IT as harmonious extensions of each other, working together as collaborative partners.
What piqued your interest in working in information technology?
I did not set out to be an information technology professional or administrator. My roots go back to being a faculty member after completing my graduate work. I still remember being on the Wichita State campus, where I began as an assistant professor. I used to walk by our administration building and wonder what the people in that building actually did. As an assistant professor, I really wasn’t exposed to the intricacies of a higher education administration.
Later on, I was grateful and fortunate to have had the opportunity to run a center for teaching and research excellence as my first role in administration. This is where I started exploring new tools and technologies for teaching and learning, and that’s what spurred my interest in information technology.
I leveraged my academic life as well, from being a researcher in the field of computer architecture to being a researcher in the field of information technology. From then on, I started doing more and more in the IT area and under the mentorship of some great leaders in the field.
What are some of your initial priorities at Michigan?
I am still learning, but I have identified some initial goals and themes, based on the conversations I’ve had and the excitement that people are showing throughout these interactions.
Our goal for Michigan IT should be that anywhere in the world, anytime someone asks which institution of higher education uses technology most appropriately, we would like Michigan to be number one on that list. The only way we are going to accomplish that goal is by working collaboratively and by having a laser focus on customer service, both in central IT and across the entire Michigan IT community.
That laser focus is extremely critical. We need to think in terms of how we can proactively support our incredible students and faculty, our amazing researchers, and our can-do, hard-working staff, so we can anticipate problems before they occur and provide them the right tools at the right time. And, really, I feel that with the talent we have across our IT community, we are well-positioned to accomplish these goals and ideas.
I am extremely excited and very optimistic about the opportunities that we will have to make positive changes and enhancements to not only IT at Michigan, but overall by supporting the mission of the university.
Lightning Round ⚡️
|First computer you purchased?||Commodore 64|
|Mentor or leader who inspires you?||I have had so many incredible teachers and mentors, it is difficult to name just one. My first mentor always was my mother. Professionally, I have had many, but to list a few: Dr. Don Beggs, retired president of Wichita State, trained me to be a servant leader. In terms of enabling leadership thinking: John Chambers at Cisco and my dear friend Joe Pinto, who recently retired from Cisco.|
|Favorite app on your phone?||I always start my day with my news apps, which include The New York Times, WSJ, Times of India, and others.|
|First job?||My first job was working as a janitor in Kansas when I was a university student. I was also a TA.|
|Favorite place to relax or go on vacation?||My favorite place to vacation is a tie between the Grand Canyon or Niagara Falls. I used to live in Flagstaff, so I visited the Grand Canyon as much as I could, and I love the sound of Niagara Falls. I believe that both are places everyone needs to experience.|
|Favorite way to consume news?||Through my smartphone|
|Light saber or phaser?||Phaser, hands down. I am a huge Star Trek fan and love going to the movies.|