I am a very tired girl.
It’s been 15 months since I was moved into IT Communications, and I’ve spent those months largely running at full throttle to stay ahead of Indiana Jones’ boulder, so to speak. I’ve (unintentionally) learned so much in such a short period of time. The inner workings of a communications team. What a communications plan really is. How Penn State handles major incidents. (What even are major incidents?) Who deals with digital signage across campus. Overall, I’ve become acutely aware of just how much communications touch every. single. decision. in all facets of work at a university.
Meanwhile, not being a communications person, my focus has been on UX and the web — specifically best practices, branding standards, web strategy, and governance. That’s such an expansive umbrella (especially for a decentralized institution with 25 separate campuses) that it exhausts me to even broach these topics aloud. I used to roll my eyes when friends earnestly and exasperatedly discussed how difficult — albeit necessary — it was to get buy-in from the administration because, frankly, it’s a Sisyphean task of epic (heh; see what I did there? I’ve still got it) proportions. And once you get buy-in from leadership, you’ve still got to convince the boots on the ground that it’s something that needs doing. Oh my god, they aren’t kidding. A year and change has taught me that.
In all my years at Penn State, I’ve never been this close in proximity to Central IT. I’ve always been closer to the teaching side of the university, working with faculty to incorporate technology into the teaching and learning process, or helping prepare courses for online learning. In that capacity, I worked on applications that students and faculty used directly. Badging to demonstrate acquired just in time learning. Applications that allowed students to record themselves giving speeches and presentations with simply the click of a button. In this latest turn, I’ve had the opportunity to engage in strategic thinking at Penn State IT, and realize how important governance is in strengthening the university brand. But there are a lot of questions that go along with these ideas. How do we let websites be managed locally while helping to provide a consistent look and feel across the university’s digital landscape? Can we make that pivot and get the buy in necessary for success? It’s a real challenge to think about the user experience of learning at Penn State at this level and from this vantage point. The inherent differences in these two points of view — helping establish student success in a classroom versus helping establish strategic success across a university — perfectly illustrate how complex the challenges can be in different positions at the same institution and even in higher education overall.
Adjusting to the new directions and demands, and how to focus on the user experience in the Penn State digital landscape, has been an important and fulfilling focus, but exhausting nonetheless. My hands have been full, juggling large projects with only a small team of people to get the job done. Over a year of addressing a large backlog of project work, cultivating new relationships while redesigning processes and work flows, all while establishing trust in a newly reorganized team from different corners of IT. So many challenges internal and external to our group, but here we are, clawing our way through it, determined to make a difference as we forge a new direction.
A year and change in, Penn State has once more decided to change direction. With the loss of our CIO and a number of critical senior leadership roles in IT, I am watching a reorganizational dance play out as leadership continues to evolve their approach to IT at Penn State. Some of our FTE (full time employee) slots are being moved out of IT and into Strategic Communications. Not the people, mind you; just the jobs. So our team is being broken up, and in the coming six months I will need to find somewhere new to land. To paraphrase Semisonic, you don’t have to go home but you can’t stay here. I haven’t talked about this turn of events because, frankly, I’m not really sure where I’m at emotionally. I’d only gotten to a point of acceptance with the last reorganization. Now I’m starting the process all over again, only now I’m grieving what could have been with this group. I think it’s safe to say I’m still somewhere between denial and anger. As soon as the news broke in October, we started losing people in their rush to find a new place to land. I don’t blame them in the slightest, but it has made it a bit of a struggle to move forward with project work as our team shrinks to a handful of people. I’m wearing too many hats — UX designer, content strategist, accessibility enforcer, governance evangelist — and I’m not even sure I know who I really am anymore. Am I still a UX designer, or have I become more of a content strategist with a UX focus? Is there such a thing as a UX strategist? I honestly have no clue. I’m pretty sure I can figure it out. I mean, I don’t have a choice; I have to figure it out. All I know for sure is that I’m going to be in search of a new place to call home, hopefully somewhere that embraces the marriage of my old and new skill sets, and my expanded way of thinking about accessible universal design within institutional governance.
But for now, I have my eye on the prize: getting to winter break with my sanity intact. I’m still pushing myself to do good work even as there are fewer and fewer people to help me accomplish it, but it is increasingly challenging. Even for a girl like me who doesn’t like things to get stale, there has been way too much change these past few years. I realize change may be the only constant in life, but I desperately need to stop running. I’m hopeful that this winter break will give me time to breathe, step back, and consider my options. For now, however, I have a content migration and site redesign to complete, test, and launch before I can relax.
I am a very tired girl.