A few years ago, Nathan Clark was sitting with his boss and another colleague brainstorming ways to reach more people with technical training and tech support services. “We felt our support was great for staff in the Residential and Student Service Programs, because that’s where the technical training service originated,” recalls Clark. “But our mandate expanded when we grew into an IT group for the whole division — into SAIT. We didn’t want to provide lopsided service; we wanted to show up reliably for everyone in Student Affairs.”
Thank you for making Mondays!
Showing up was a hallmark of the service; the bilingual technical trainers were already visiting 10 locations per week, the idea being that it’s better to bring how-to information about systems in real time, and be there to help as questions arise, rather than have customer needs wait for routing through a trouble ticket system. “The housing, dining, and trades people knew to expect us and how to seek us out,” explains Clark. “But how to establish a presence in other departments?”
Fantastic idea and such a neat way to bring us together!
The technical trainers were used to setting up impromptu computer centers for worker training every week, so they were always rolling around carts full of laptops and a printer. Since most workers in other areas would have computers of their own, carts full of hardware wouldn’t be necessary. One of the brainstormed alternative ideas was to have a kind of coffee cart, and to get attention for the services that way.
“As soon as we came up with this notion, my imagination just lit up,” says Clark. “I do a lot of baking, and one of my favorite kinds of get-togethers is to gather a bunch of friends to have hot drinks, pastries, and lots of conversation and catching up. We decided that, if we could get the materials together, Sproul Hall would be the best place to establish regular visits.” (Sproul is fortunately a location for many Student Affairs departments, including Admissions, the Registrar, Financial Aid, part of the Dean of Students portfolio, part of Business Operations, and Cal Student Central.) SAIT bought a sturdy utility cart. Clark took careful measurements, and built the coffee cart top at home in his garage. “I wanted the subliminal message to be one of comfort and elegance, so I made it of stained mahogany and brass, with some curved lines to make it feel less rigid and more welcoming. I got a real kick out of the contrast between this utilitarian, plastic cart below and the handmade wooden canopy above.” He added a sign to reinforce the theme. It reads “Student Affairs Technical Training – Where Modern Technology Meets Old-Fashioned Service.”
Thank you! We look forward to this every week!
With a couple more adornments — a string of LED lights powered by a small battery pack; some ‘loaner mugs’ hanging from hooks — the cart went into service. Clark has been visiting Sproul Hall late on Monday mornings, ever since. He bakes something at home the night before, and supplements it with other snacks and drinks. He tries to have both sweet and savory snacks. A typical spread would be bread, cheese, salami, dark chocolate, tea, cocoa, and some kind of home-made baked item. “I do a variety of tech support on these visits. Last week, I set up a printer, connected a mobile device to AirBears2, installed a KVM switch, and updated some software. Some weeks, I only give out tea and snacks. People leave their desks and come take a minute to see each other and catch up. I probably get three or four dozen visitors per week. People say it makes them feel like they’re at a fancy firm with perks, like Google. It’s a wonderful expansion of my usual work, feeling the community that can form around a small, warm gesture.”