50th Anniversary Memories

Some of my fondest memories as a young professional involved attending SIGUCCS conferences. At a time when professional conferences didn’t seem to understand higher education needs (in terms of content or pricing to attend), SIGUCCS stood out as a way to learn, share and collaborate.

From my first presentation in 1993, I’ve always enjoyed being part of SIGUCCS. 

— Phil Verghis, 2008 CEO & Co-founder, Klever – Knowledge Lever

Rob Paterson, here. I’d like to share some thoughts about my relationship with SIGUCCS on her 50th anniversary.

I am an academic, a biologist. In fact, my PhD is in avian ecology. I share this because it may set a frame of reference. At one point, while looking for a teaching position I applied and was hired to help faculty use “technology” in the teaching/learning process. In our field (Higher Education technology support) that isn’t terribly unique. This happened in the mid-1980s. The following spring I attended my first SIGUCCS conference. It was the Management Symposium, in St. Louis. It is there I met Penny Crane, Jerry Neibaum, Larry Pickett and John Bucher just to name a few. Turns out John also happened to be an Ornithologist, but that’s not the story I want to share. 

The following fall I went to my first fall User Services conference. The first one I attended was in Kansas City, Missouri. The only thing I remember about that was I got stuck in the hotel elevator for what seemed like an hour. I’ve made it to most of the other fall and spring conferences… not all, but most and there while there are many that stand out, I’d like to reminisce about two which to me exemplify the true value of SIGUCCS. 

One I want to share is 1989 in Bethesda, Maryland. I had met and conversed with Penny Crane at the conferences before but at this one she was particularly attentive, and by the end of the conference had me volunteering to be program chair for the conference to be held in Seattle in 1991. Yes, we started the process almost 2 year out back then. We were one of the first conferences to conduct abstract and paper review all on-line. No databases, just emailing papers to readers, to put together a program. I worked with track chairs, session chairs and reviewers all online, not meeting some of them until the conference. I had also been to a local conference and seen a young fellow give an interesting talk and convinced our committee to invite Bruce Sterling to be that year’s key note speaker. This was a big change from the traditional speakers but he turned out to be a big hit. (Google Bruce if you need to.) During that conference our local committee met regularly and it was during that process I began to really appreciate the value of the network of colleagues that was being created around me. 

A second conference I remember was 1990, Cincinnati, Ohio. By now I’d met and knew a whole slew of professional friends. They were from all over the country, big schools, small schools, front line folks, managers, and directors; CIOs hadn’t be invented yet!!! Well after one of the social events a group of us decided we should go to dinner and took cabs across the river to Kentucky, we had a great meal, stayed and stayed on a bit longer than any of us planned. In the end we had to walk back across the bridge to the hotel in Cincinnati. On the way home (it was rather late) we past this great fountain near the hotel. It was October I believe but there was still water in the pool… and somewhere, in someone’s archives, there are photographs of about a dozen of us standing in the fountain… It was so long ago, the particulars are fuzzy, but that group of Higher Education IT folks created a strong bond and to this day we still depend on one-another for knowledge, advice, support and camaraderie. 

I’ve been in this business for a long time now. That surprises me daily. I’ve been a member of many IT organizations but SIGUCCS formed the underlying structure and basis for my professional life without which I know I would not have had the successes I’ve been privileged to have. Thank you SIGUCCS.

— Robert Paterson, 2008 Hall Of Fame inductee & 2009 Penny Crane Award winner 

This year while SIGUCCS is celebrating its 50th, I’ll be celebrating my 10 years as a member. How time flies! I joined SIGUCCS in fall 2003 while attending my first conference in San Antonio. No matter how outgoing you are, it’s never easy to go to a conference for the first time when you don’t know anyone. That didn’t take long. I went to breakfast alone at the hotel restaurant and the waitress sat me beside David Weiss from Nazareth College who I found out was also going to SIGUCCS. I now see him annually and we have become good friends over the years. Later that same day, I walked into a pre-conference workshop on managing student workers (which was a new role for me at the time) and sat beside Patti Mitch from the University of Wisconsin-Platteville. It was also her first conference. We became friends instantly and have stories and laughs from just about every conference we have attended together.

Over the past 10 years, I have had the privilege of attending many of the SIGUCCS conferences and wearing various hats: volunteer, presenter, board member, attendee, etc. For every conference there is a memory… From Patti & I getting on our snow boots and taking the bus around Edmonton twice to finally get to the Conservatory. Patti, Jenn, Cindy and me walking for miles through Philadelphia to get our picture with the Rocky statue and find that Hibachi place. Kathy, my sister (also Cathy) and I taking a fast water taxi ride while in San Diego. A large group of us going line dancing in Nashville and me trying to somewhat look like I knew what I was doing when Terry snapped my picture. And, last but not least…Gail and Karen for all the late night talks and friendship over the years. Thank you to all of my SIGUCCS colleagues and friends who have been with me over the last ten years…too many to name…you know who you are. Also, a special thank you to Alex, Leila and Bob for all of your advice and mentoring over the years.

To me, SIGUCCS isn’t just a word that you get printed on large buttons (yes, that was me who ordered those ASK ME WHY? buttons), its a network of colleagues who I can count on at any time for ideas, suggestions and most importantly. inspiration. The takeaways, the renewed energy after each conference and the connections I have made over the years, keep me coming back.

Congratulations to SIGUCCS for celebrating a wonderful 50 years! …and here’s to the future!

— Christine L. Vucinich, 2013 Hall of Fame inductee

First, a correction: the sponsoring institution for the 8th User Services Conference actually was West Virginia Network for Educational Telecomputing (WVNET). The remarkable Chuck Shomper, who had come to WV from Iowa to develop a state-wide network asked me to suggest to the Board that the conference be held in Morgantown. Knowing that it had been in places like Chicago and Los Angeles, I agreed to, and did broach the idea, and was absolutely horn-swoggled when the Board agreed. 

The conference was a roaring success, partly because of the obvious constraints (at that time, there really was nothing to DO in Morgantown–and besides, we were in a hotel on what might be called the outskirts). And partly because of the unexpected blizzard and power outage. We’d billed the conference with a motto borrowed from Monty Python–“And now for something completely different.” And we began the conference with get-to-know-one-another activities. 

When you are trapped, miles from anywhere, with interesting, bright people who share some interests, what happens is you get to know one another, and that happened big time at USC 8.

Before touching on other times and places, I need to say the success of USC 8 would not have occurred without the committed efforts of the fabulous Kay Beach then of GWU, Rich Pollak then of the U.S. Naval Academy, Ann White, then of MIT, my then indomitable aide, Elsa Nadler, the effort and art work of the brilliant cartoonist George Chastain, and the contribution and comfort provided by my beloved Assistant Chair, the now-late Phillip Contic. Without the solid support of Chuck Shomper and WVNET, we’d never have pulled it off.

In fact, the Proceedings for that conference almost did not make it to the hands of the attendees. Apparently, the cover–a cartoon showing a duck, a cat, and a hippo parading down the street–struck the then-head of the ACM Publications Board as “unprofessional.” (And he did not know they were in drag!) He told the ACM event coordinator to prevent circulation, and that blessed soul told him the proceedings already had been sent out. (They hadn’t been, quite.)

I thought of that incident later, when the first cartoon cover of Communications of the ACM appeared, with a depiction of Uncle Sam and a truly racist caricature of an Asian “opponent.” 

My own introduction to SIGUCC(S) was at a User Services Conference in Cherry Hill, NJ, headed by Jean Bonney, then at Rutgers and subsequently at MIT, then DEC. From then on, pretty much, I felt my friends were people I saw once a year–at the User Services Conference. There is nothing that contributes to a feeling of belonging than being surrounded by intelligent, creative people who care about and want to help others. We in this trade live to serve, and that ties us together.

One of my favorite recollections is from the party in Long Beach, where creativity definitely was at the fore. I don’t know how many people might have anticipated the need for Halloween costumes, but those who were not pre-prepared certainly displayed their ingenuity–and, in a few select instances, some nicely toned flesh. 

After I moved to Princeton, I remember cramming four employees and myself into a small suite for the Bethesda conference, to get as much exposure to SIGUCC(S) for my staff as I could. Happily, the one male had been in Princeton’s marching band, so nothing fazed him–and the one pregnant staff member had two months to go. There are lots more memories, but time is up. Rock on, friends!

— Rita Seplowitz Saltz, 2000 Hall Of Fame inductee 

The eighth “User Services Conference” in 1980 was held in Morgantown, West Virginia in early November, with the University of West Virginia as host, and Rita Saltz as the Conference Chair. If you’ve never been to Morgantown, it’s not far from those mountains that John Denver sang about, and can get quite cool any time in November. It’s also not a large city with a lot of recreational offerings, so our activities were pretty much limited to the conference hotel.

Rita was a great host, however, which turned out to be a very good thing. During the afternoon sessions one day, the power suddenly went off – throughout Morgantown, or at least a large portion of it. No one seemed to know what the problem was, but electric devices don’t work very well under that circumstance, including room lights, projectors, and the like. To add another complication, it began to snow heavily, so options became even more limited.

Undaunted, Rita rounded up some candles, told the speakers to just go ahead with the small amount of ambient light coming through the windows, and make their presentations as best they could. They responded very well, and everyone agreed that the situation had been extremely well handled.

The power was eventually restored before dark, but the snow dampened spirits, so Rita got the hotel to place various kinds of games on each table in the hotel lobby, and set up a very nice “social gathering” room for the attendees. By this meeting, of course, the “hospitality suite” had also become a fixture of the conference, albeit in a suite of the hotel with very limited space and facilities. In other words, everyone found something to do (and enjoy) that night, and the social interaction was never better.

As it turned out, just about every attendee rated that conference as the best to date, and Rita was the SIGUCCS “hero of the year”. If you’ve never met Rita, she’s just as ebullient as ever, now works at Princeton, and we’re trying to get her to take a train to Chicago (she never flies) to join us this November. If she’s there, introduce yourself to her and ask her about that memorable conference.

— Jack Esbin, 2001 Hall Of Fame inductee & 2001 Penny Crane Award winner  

In the Summer of 1981 I became Director of Academic Computing Services at the University of Kansas. My mentor and former ‘boss’ at Iowa State University, Clair Maple, made me aware of the importance of ACM SIGUCCS and it’s annual Spring conference in St. Louis. Our travel budget at Kansas was meager, but my colleagues elsewhere in the state had a plan for me. Each year Keith Faulkner, Fort Hays State University, Tom Gallagher, Kansas State University, and Lloyd Edwards, Emporia State University would carpool to the SIGUCCS conference. In 1982 they invited (insisted) that I join them in the entourage and share a room with two of them. As the new kid, I got the roll away bed. What a joyous time we had solving all the problems of our profession driving across much of Kansas and all of Missouri to reach St. Louis. It was probably on those trips that I realized just how important relationships were in our developing profession. Over the years we repeated that trek together more times than I can count. Eventually, I had a room of my own in St. Louis for the annual conference.

One year I was introducing my friend, John Bucher, for one of his great talks on user services. In the introduction I noted that John was the only ornithologist I knew in computing services. In the back of the audience, Rob Patterson, raised his hand and declared that he, too, was an ornithologist. Only later did it occur to me that they might have been studying us all.

It was probably in the Spring of 1986 or 1987 when our luncheon speaker was Steve Jobs. Conference Program Chair, John Skelton, asked me to introduce Jobs for his talk. I asked Steve how I should introduce him and he said (as I recall), “Just say that I helped create the Apple computer company and then they fired me.” We had arranged the room with Steve at the podium at center front with projection screen in the corner. He asked that the room be rearranged so that the screen was immediately behind him, even though he blocked part of the screen. In that way he became the center of attention rather than what he was projecting. I thought that was rather brilliant marketing. He ate only fruits for lunch, and when I asked why, he responded with a question, “What does a 600 lb. gorilla eat?” His talk for the day was about his new company, NeXT.

— Jerry Niebaum, 2001 Hall Of Fame inductee (Mar 2, 2013) 

“On my memories of SIGUCCS …. The friendly and welcoming people who, for my first several years, taught me much about running computing centers and that the most important part wasn’t the machinery, it was making services meaningful to real faculty and students I remember being impressed with John Bucher’s commanding presence when he spoke…. The joy of being assigned to the East tower (and hence being much closer to the meeting rooms). Remembering how invaluable it was to hear about how other computing center directors (the term in those days) were dealing with issues Comparing the economics of dial-up…. what ratio did other universities use? (Dial-up was used on-campus as well as off-campus.) You actually had to hold classes to teach people how to use a word processor. The awkwardness of some of the university administrators who didn’t know what to say to computing management. Realizing in 1982 that all knowledge created from then on was going to be captured digitally and that I needed to get close to the libraries” 

— Glenn Ricart, 2009 Hall Of Fame inductee (Feb 25, 2012) 

“SIGUCCS has been a fantastic experience in my few years in the IT field. I help manage our campus helpdesk, and actually learned about SIGUCCS from a colleague who attended before me – he came back to campus, enthused about a way for our helpdesk to revolutionize the way we structured training that would help us address several issues we’d been struggling with. That enthusiasm continued as I attended SIGUCCS and took ideas and wove them into the fabric of our helpdesk and its training. Each year I look forward to going back to the conference, seeing friends from schools big and small, all around the country, and hopefully sharing my own ideas someday soon, to give back to the community that has given so much to me and to Carleton!” 

Kendra Strode (Jan 11, 2012)