ITS Update from VC Williams

To: UCSC Community

From: Vice Chancellor of Information Technology, Van Williams

Dear Campus Community, 

The campus has been through a lot this year: strikes, COVID-19, fire evacuations, and other momentous events both internal and external that have had an effect on our work. How we support you and the role that technology plays in your work are more important than ever. 

We have seen unprecedented demand for services as campus needs changed and strategic objectives rapidly evolved. For example, did you know that UCSC held over 100,000 Zoom meetings in the month of May? That was up from just over 3,000 meetings per month one year earlier. And, that staggering number, with all of the support implications that it entails, will likely grow in 2021.

Below are some changes in IT services that are worth reviewing, some notable improvements, and a glance at coming attractions for the year ahead. 

What We’ve Been Up To

Transforming Technology During a Pandemic

Campus priorities dramatically changed on March 16 when the mandated shelter-in-place order took effect, and our county took extraordinary steps to respond to COVID-19. We immediately augmented support and quickly rolled out some key new services to smooth the transition for campus. Our efforts emphasized helping: 

  • Students to learn remotely

  • Faculty to successfully engage in remote instruction and continue their critical research

  • Staff to get set up to work productively from remote locations 

The surge in people learning/teaching/working remotely also required the Information Security team to address a sudden increase in phishing/social engineering security threats, which unfortunately continues to this day. Last month we took steps to inform students, faculty, and staff about these threats as part of the National Cybersecurity Awareness Month campaign.

Helping Campus Respond to the CZU Lightning Complex Fire 

In the days leading up to the order to evacuate, we took necessary steps to rescue important research and administrative backups so that campus data was secure, shut down key campus infrastructure, and made sure the campus Police Dispatch had an alternate, safe location so their important work could continue. Like many of you, we did our best to step up and fill in wherever we could to provide as much service and support as possible while preparing for the very real possibility of property loss both at work and at home. I witnessed an outpouring of empathy combined with acts of generosity and moments of true heroism throughout campus that transcended standard professional protocol. I am so proud of the resiliency that staff in ITS demonstrated. 

Personalized Instructional Support

UCSC student workers were assigned to help faculty one-on-one in the use of Zoom during their online remote courses. The student workers involved were themselves remote and were unsure of how their campus jobs would be affected by the shelter-in-place order. But, they still needed the hours and the pay to allow them to make ends meet and continue their studies. Read full article

Easier Access to Video Content

Faculty and students can now create and manage instructional videos using YuJa, which was deployed and integrated with Zoom and Canvas. Video-based content produced by faculty and students (or even staff) can be stored and captioned securely while the integration with Zoom makes recorded meetings/classes available in the same familiar platform. Growth of video-based content resulting from the push to remote instruction (and work) has been enormous, and UCSC is now prepared. More details

Moving from Paper to Digital Grading

Gradescope, a product that streamlines the grading process was fully integrated with Canvas. Gradescope helps faculty and graduate TAs get through grading faster, thereby freeing up time for them to work on their research and other projects or service activities. More details

Moving from Paper to Digital Forms

DocuSign, a product that allows people to digitally sign documents securely, was deployed in late 2019 before the Coronavirus changed how the campus conducted business. Since its rollout academic and administrative departments have been reinventing their business processes on the fly and streamlining their workflows. The improved security and the elimination of the need for wet signatures was timely and ultimately reduced the disruptions caused by the shelter-in-place order. More details

Coronavirus Testing in UCSC’s Molecular Diagnostic Lab

In August, through a partnership with the county, the Molecular Diagnostic Lab testing facilities on campus acquired new equipment to expand their capabilities. We worked with campus support providers to keep the technology and systems in the testing lab functional, online, and HIPAA compliant. Staff can now test hundreds of samples per day, which is critical to safely reopening the campus and keeping the broader Santa Cruz community safe. 

Securing Remote Access

Since the campus now conducts business from all types of remote locations, we have observed a significant increase in people using the Virtual Private Network (VPN). In July, Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA), also known as “two-step” or “two-factor” authentication, was added to the VPN authentication process to provide an extra layer of security and make our campus operations safer from wherever people connect. 

Expanding Computational Research

UCSC’s computational research capabilities expanded in two ways: First, thanks to the leadership of Professor Brant Robertson, a new high performance computing (HPC) environment was deployed that enables climate modeling, astrophysical simulations, and machine learning. More details We also stabilized and expanded access to the Hummingbird environment, allowing more people to use it for their remote research. More details

Making Website Management Easier

Resulting from a decision to adopt Drupal as a common web content management platform for the campus in 2019, Chancellor Larive and CPEVC Kletzer charged ITS and University Relations (UR) with creating a centrally managed Drupal instance that 1) uses a shared design system, 2) enables content reuse, 3) supports a content governance model, and 4) is scalable to support the campus web presence. Work in ITS and UR began in earnest with input from a campuswide Digital Marketing & Communication Council to move this massive, multi-year initiative forward.

Streamlining HR Processes

Over the past year, we have been hard at work deploying many new systems and feature upgrades to existing systems that directly benefit students, faculty, and staff who want to move through our online processes smoothly and with the least amount of headache possible. In partnership with Staff Human Resources, two notable rollouts were: The new ePerformance tool and the Talent Acquisition Module (TAM) that replaced the aging RMS system. Faculty and staff can access both of these systems via UCPath. 

Although there is a learning curve involved, these state-of-the-art systems reduce the time it takes to move through important processes and allow business units to effectively manage and store mission critical information. Specifically, the ePerformance system makes collaboration on performance evaluations easier while the Talent Acquisition Module provides a modern and simplified interface for prospective job applicants.  

Paying Tuition with a Credit Card

UCSC students now have the ability to conduct financial transactions (including tuition payment and refunds) using a credit card in the financial online system. Partnering with Student Business Systems, we updated multiple interfaces and engaged in the technical work necessary so that students can accomplish more via self-service.

Where We’re Heading 2020-21

In the coming year, we will continue to prioritize support for remote instruction, IT security, and support for research initiatives, particularly those related to COVID-19 testing. We will continue to improve communications with campus on the services we offer, the decisions made with your input, and the service implications for the technical changes that lay ahead. To that end, here are three important projects to be aware of in the coming year:

Simplifying Student Recruitments

A new workgroup has formed, under the direction of the Division of Student Affairs and Success, to replace the existing Student Recruitment system. Partners in this effort currently include the Career Center, Staff HR, Undergraduate Education (including Academic HR and Financial Aid) and ITS.

Managing Spaces Efficiently and Safely

We will be replacing the systems that maintain campus space and facilities with a new system that provides a  more modern mobile interface. As we adjust to life with COVID, this new system will help ensure that the campus offers clean and safe spaces for our students, faculty, and staff.

Improving our Campus Website Experience

Through a partnership with ITS and University Relations, the campus will begin rolling out a unified website design this year. The new design will establish a common look and feel while preserving while preserving the distinctiveness and uniqueness of each department’s website. 

It has been an exceedingly productive year and we’re excited about what’s coming next, like improvements to student housing services, cross-campus enrollment, the rollout of a new Student Experience with Teaching survey system, and improvements to the dining experience for students. 

Please reach out to me with any questions, concerns or just to say hi by emailing

Best regards, 

Van Williams

Vice Chancellor of Information Technology

Cyber Risk Responsible Executive