2019 EDUCAUSE Rising Star Award: Tina Pappas [video]

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A conversation with the 2019 EDUCAUSE Rising Star Award winner.

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Tina Pappas
Associate Director of Innovation and Technology
Rutgers University–Newark

Gerry Bayne: First, I'd like to just ask you how you feel about winning the award?

Tina Pappas: I'd say, it was a very pleasant and, what's the word I'm looking for? It was a pleasant surprise really, is what it was. It took me...

Gerry: Cool.

Tina: It took me by complete surprise and, it's still not setting in, right now. I think maybe when I'm at EDUCAUSE, it will finally feel real.

Gerry: Right, that's great. Well, can you talk about how you got your start and hire at IT? What led you to a career in higher ed IT?

Tina: Sure, it's actually a pretty simple story. I was a junior, in my undergrad time in college, and I applied to a job for a user-support specialist, it was a student job, and I sort of never left.

Gerry: That's how it happens, sometimes. You just get swept-up in what you're doin'. Did anybody inspire you to pursue leadership in your career? Was there any mentors or anybody that inspired you?

Tina: No, no one, in particular. I think I've always been the kind of person where... I'm very much a people observer and so, whether it's in my personal or professional life, I am very perceptive to what's going on around me. And, when I see a quality or characteristic in someone that has demonstrated, that really appeals to me, I kind of just watch closely. And, I try to mimic those behaviors, or try to develop myself to sort of match what I really like in a person. So, the answer to that question is, a whole lot of people, more than I can name.

Gerry: Right. I don't know if you want to answer this question or not, this is kind of strange one but, what are some of the most important decisions you have made as a leader?

Tina: Okay, so I think the single most important decision I have made is about being clear with myself, about what my value are, and, understanding why they're my values. And then, really just committing to myself that I stand by them, speak up to them, advocate for them. I could answer that in a much more technical way but, I think that the biggest impact on my own professional development has been my clarity with my values.

Gerry: That's an important one, and I don't think it's mentioned very often, but that's a really wonderful answer. How do you think we can prepare ourselves, higher education IT, that is, for the challenges in the next coming five years or so? What do you think is important for us to do?

Tina: Well, first I'm gonna say that we're in a time now, more than ever, where higher education as a whole, really needs to demonstrate it's value to society. And, I think IT's role is to really support that, especially to exploit opportunities where we an innovate. We can increase efficiency. We can help promote effectiveness. So, I really think that we have to continue on the path of truly understanding the business; why higher education is here, who we're here for, what we're trying to achieve. And then, have IT really just be the under-pinning of how we're gonna get there.

Gerry: One more question. What is one characteristic that you believe every leader should possess?

Tina: I'll do you one better, Gerry. I think every person should possess the ability to communicate. And, I think my favorite quote of all time really is one that I believe Warren Buffett made, which is when he said that, "One way to easily increase your value by 50% is honing your communication skills." And, I truly believe that that is the number one aspect of your personality, of your being, that will help you get through just about any profession, any experience, anything in your life.

Gerry: Has it helped you, in higher ed IT, communicating with non-technical people, technical ideas? Have you had to do that at all?

Tina: That's probably the single most important and frequent thing that I've had to do in any position I've held. And honestly, what's been easier for me, is to not think about it I that context. I don't think about it as I have to take this complicated X'd thing, and, explain it to this very different type of population. Because, I think that really makes it more difficult, mentally. What I have kind of conditioned myself to do is just remember that I'm talking to a person. The way I would talk to a person in a cafe, in a line somewhere at a store. I'm just talking to a person, and I really think it's important to kind of sense who you're talking to, how they think about things, what they're sort of verbal and nonverbal cues are, and then, just conduct whatever the conversation is; technical, strategic, anything from that point, remembering that the other side of that conversation is just another person, like you.

Gerry: Well, I think that's all the questions I have. And, we really, really appreciate you being a part of our community. And, congratulations on the award. Is there anything else you want to add that we haven't talked about?

Tina: I don't think so, other than really just extend my gratitude and my appreciation to Moran Consulting and EDUCAUSE for having an opportunity like this. And, my colleague, Jackie, for nominating me. It really is, it really is a testament to the type of community that EDUCAUSE is, that we're here to support each other. So, I just want to thank you all for making this possible.