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NMSU Faces Tech Challenges With 11 Senior IT Staff Retiring

Spurred in part by a retirement incentive program, the loss of almost a dozen IT leaders leaves New Mexico State University searching for a permanent CIO and reevaluating its plans and cybersecurity posture.

New Mexico State University overhead.jpg
New Mexico State University
(TNS) — Many senior staffers retired from New Mexico State University at the end of June, but few units experienced as large of a group retiring as Information and Communications Technology Services.

Eleven senior staff retired as a group from NMSU ICT, averaging 27.4 years of service between them.

The unit's Chief Information Officer Norma Grijalva was among the retirees with 34 years at NMSU. The other retirees held the positions of directors, managers and staff of the services unit she led.

“They really set us up for the future; it was an amazing group,” said NMSU Vice Chancellor and Strategic Chief Financial Officer Ruth Johnston about the 11 retired staff members.

This mass retirement was part of NMSU's Voluntary Retirement Incentive Program, which was announced in October 2020 amid anticipated budget cuts.

Johnston said that although about 150 employees took advantage of the retirement incentive program university-wide.

She said that although these retirements were triggered by the budget cuts, they were also inspired by the university's long-term goals, a strategy called LEADS 2025.

“We’re looking at everything from, yes, budget, of course, but also appropriate staffing levels, compensation levels, process improvement,” Johnston said. “We have a lot of things that are still manual that we’d like to make automated. We’re doing a review of our policies. It’s really a comprehensive look at how to make NMSU the most effective and efficient.”

Moving forward with Information and Communications Technology

Johnston said this is a great opportunity to make changes in ICT and find out how to best use the staff they already have to prioritize tasks.

“With the loss of so much institutional knowledge, we don’t know what we don’t know,” Johnston said. “I expect that we’re going to have some surprises somewhere along the line.”

For now, Johnston said ICT is keeping with the same structure of directors and managers by placing interims in those positions. Chris Kielt, who most recently served as the interim chief information officer at East Stroudsburg University in Pennsylvania, has been appointed to the interim chief information officer position while NMSU searches for a permanent CIO.

Kielt will be helping the unit transition into new leadership for the next year. Throughout the month of June, he worked with Grijalva and other ICT to prepare to fill the role.

Johnston said she expects NMSU to find a permanent CIO before July 1, 2022.

Even with the loss of a group with decades of experience under their belts, Johnston said ICT is a huge department with many talented staff members who are ready to step up to the plate.

“While it is a big hit, what I would say is that they prepared the next level to step up,” Johnstons said. “I’m very confident in the people who are in our roles now, as we really do a complete exploration of information and communication technologies.”

This exploration is another piece in the LEADS 2025 strategic plan. Johnston said she invited CIOs from two other universities and the Sandia Labs to look at NMSU’s ICT systems and compare the college to its peers.

Johnston said ICT got a lot of positive feedback about the department’s customer service and dedication to moving NMSU online during the pandemic. She said the ICT still needs to grow as far as automating its services, which will improve its cybersecurity.

“I’ve been talking with the Board of Regents and with senior administration about the need to do further investment in Information and Communication Technologies, especially if we want to reach our LEADS 2025 goals,” Johnston said. “We have a lot of things that we want to do and we need the university to be behind us in terms of the investment that it’s going to take.”

Johnston said this large group retirement shouldn’t have any direct effect on students, which are the university and ICT’s “No. 1 commitment.”

The only change that students can expect is the implementation of two-factor authentication, which is a system that essentially requires two pieces of evidence that a student is who they say they are. For example, a student will log in with their username and password on their computer, then they might need to access an application on their phone to confirm they want to log in. This change is unrelated to the retirement and is intended to increase cybersecurity at NMSU.

If students do have any trouble with technology, they can visit, email or call 575-646-1840.

“Information groups are often kind of behind the scenes, but there’s nothing more foundational than being able to have the appropriate information technologies,” Johnston said.

ICT retirees, according to an NMSU news release:

Norma Grijalva, chief information officer, 34 years of service John Roberts, chief information security officer, 29.5 years of service Piyasat Nilkaew, director of ICT Computing and Communication Infrastructure, 25 years of service Siiri Rogers, director of Enterprise Information Technology, 30.5 years of service Danny Bosch, manager of Enterprise Network Engineering and Planning, 25 years of service Julie Cadena, manager of Enterprise PC, 34 years of service Ray Cadena, manager of Telecom & Networking Operations, 29 years of service Alan Lambeth, technology support tech, 28 years of service Terry King, senior systems analyst, 15 years of service Shwu-Ping (Crystal) Wang, lead enterprise programmer analyst, 20 years of service Chingder Yeh, lead systems developer, 31.5 years of service

©2021 the Las Cruces Sun-News (Las Cruces, N.M.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.