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Northwestern IT Recognizes Employee and Project Team Excellence

Posted Date: 28 Feb 2020

Effective Date: 28 Feb 2020

By Eshanika Chaudhary
Photography By Annie Speicher

Kathi Dal Santo, the Quest Scheduler Transition Project, and the KIS Data Center Hardware Relocation Project all took center stage at the Northwestern IT Extended Staff Meeting on February 5, 2020, where both individual performance and project team excellence were celebrated.

Employee Excellence in 2019

Cyberinfrastructure’s Kathi Dal Santo, a member of the Telecommunications and Network Services department, received the 2019 Employee Excellence Award, which annually recognizes a Northwestern IT staff member that has made remarkable contributions during the past calendar year and consistently demonstrated a superior level of performance.

Dal Santo was nominated for her excellent customer service and communication, ability to command teams and meet deadlines with large workloads, and tireless work on the Cisco voice migration, Simpson Querrey, and ACD service migration projects, among others. 

Although initially interested in pharmacy and contemplating pursuing further schooling in research, Dal Santo fell in love with telecommunications while working at the ROLM Corporation and Northwestern IT is better off because of it.

“Before data and voice were separate, I was on the voice side as an assistant typing up papers and such, and I thought it sounded interesting,” Dal Santo said.

She was later promoted to designer at ROLM, a role with similar responsibilities to her current job. Today, she is responsible for all phones and data orders throughout the University, including working on various migrations and implementations when new buildings are commissioned. Dal Santo’s workload has significantly increased in the past 18 months.

Kathi dal santo, Sean Reynolds
Kathi Dal Santo and Sean Reynolds

“Kathi’s role is looking after telecomm-related project requests,” Vice President for Information Technology and Chief Information Officer Sean Reynolds explained at the meeting. “That’s the day-to-day function that Kathi has performed over a number of years. And then, added to that—and I think we are all aware of it and have experienced it—this year, she also worked on the Cisco Voice Migration Project. So with the change to the client interface, having to pay attention to detail, scheduling, working with customers, etc., we saw Kathi at the front of it; it was quite an extra uplift on a job she does every day.” 

Reynolds also pointed out that in addition to the Cisco project, Dal Santo impacted projects for the various new buildings coming online, including Simpson Querrey, Welsh-Ryan Arena, Ryan Fieldhouse, and Walter Athletics Center. Throughout, Dal Santo has shown the same dedication to completing her duties in an efficient and high-quality manner.

“It’s validation that I’m doing good work,” Dal Santo said about receiving the award. “Quite often when you’re putting in extra hours and wondering, ‘What am I doing this for,’ you realize in turn that someone does appreciate it. I’m very humbled by this award because I didn’t expect it, and people may see it as going the extra mile, but I am just treating people the way I would want to be treated if I were a customer.”

Dal Santo added she was “stunned” when she got the award because while she has a highly visible, client-facing role, her work is not possible without many others’ support.

“Twelve people are backing me, at least, and if I didn’t have their cooperation and assistance, none of this happens,” Dal Santo explained. “So, I got recognized, but this award belongs to 12 of us.”

Congratulations to all the finalists for the 2019 Employee Excellence Award, who were also recognized: Brian Daly, Chris Fowler, and Aditi Singru, all members of Northwestern IT’s Administrative Systems unit.

Annual Project Team Success

Next up at the February 5 meeting, Reynolds congratulated the Quest Scheduler Transition Project team, winners of the FY19 annual Project Team Excellence Award.

Winners of the FY19 Q4 Project Team Excellence Award, the project is deserving due to its complex nature, the degree of collaboration involved, and the impact on Northwestern researcher efficiency and future cost savings.

extended staff meeting
Sean Reynolds, Alper Kinaci, Janna Nugent, Matthew Rich,
and Alex Mamach

The project required frequent communication and critical collaboration between Northwestern IT’s Research Computing Services and Cyberinfrastructure teams to select a suitable replacement for the existing Moab Quest Scheduler Software and then implement it. The work required robust and frequent communication with researchers across the University to gather criteria for the new software, which eventually led the teams to select Slurm as the scheduler of choice. The result is a projected $140K in savings for Northwestern over the next five years and an expected increase in researcher productivity.

“We look at what project stands apart when we look at impact on community and also on the Northwestern Behaviors,” Reynolds said when presenting this year’s award. “Why is the Quest Scheduler Transition Project important? It’s not just a user interface; it really increases the computational capacity of our high-performance computing environment. Other aspects had to do with saving dollars and fairness in terms of how jobs are scheduled.”

The project team included Alper Kinaci, Janna Nugent, and Matthew Rich from Research Computing Services and Alex Mamach from Processing and Information Management. Kazi Anwar, no longer at Northwestern, and Melanie Wilson, now working in the Feinberg School of Medicine, were also recognized for their work on the project. The Aquiire Implementation Project, the FY19 Q3 winner, was also a finalist for the annual award.

FY20 Q1 Project Team Excellence

The final award presented at the meeting recognized the Kellogg Information Systems Data Center Hardware Relocation Project as the FY20 Q1 Project Team Excellence Award winner.

Sean Reynolds, Dan Daley, Jerry Hakl, Manuel Riveron,
Michael Korby, and RuthAnn Ostrowski (award presenter)

This project also displayed strong collaboration, requiring the Service Operation and Telecommunications and Network Services teams to work closely with the Kellogg Information Systems (KIS) group.

Project complexity was high and involved relocating the KIS Data Center equipment from the Jacobs Center to the University Data Center. Not only was the project successful, but the project team managed to complete the work two days earlier than expected, all while incurring hardly any new costs and avoiding downtime or changes to existing IP addresses. Efforts resulted in a seamless transition for the customer, and the project has already suggested significant cost savings for the Kellogg School of Management.

This project also sets a precedent for future moves using the protocol developed. This protocol can be replicated for similar projects, which could result in significant time and cost savings over the next several years.

Ten people worked on this project, including seven from Northwestern IT—Michael Korby (project manager), Dan Daley, Manuel Riveron, Jerry Hakl, Chris Fabri, Ryan Kelly, and Chris Hart—and three from Kellogg Information Systems—Alecia Suplemento, Juan Geracaris, and Matt Topolinksi.

To learn more about each of these awards, including how to nominate an individual or project team, visit Inside IT’s Staff Recognition page.

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