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Northwestern IT Recognizes Outstanding Employee and Project Contributions

Posted Date: 30 Mar 2022

Effective Date: 30 Mar 2022

At the Northwestern IT Extended Staff Meeting in February, the department announced winners of the annual Employee and Project Team Excellence Awards. Both awards recognized excellence in work that enables the University’s core mission of research eminence and teaching and learning excellence. James Panegasser, senior data center technician, was honored along with the Advising System Replacement and Zoom Implementation projects.

Employee Excellence

Panegasser earned the 2021 Employee Excellence Award, which recognizes a Northwestern IT staff member for their significant impact and consistently demonstrating a superior level of performance.

A member of the Service Operation Center (SOC) team, Panegasser was celebrated for his high degree of professionalism, commitment to operational excellence, and diligent work on multiple projects, including efforts enabling Northwestern researchers to advance their work and further the University's robust research endeavors. Panegasser has worked in the Service Operation Center since 2014, having earned a promotion to senior data center technician in 2020.

“James is a very professional colleague who completely recognizes organizational and research priorities and demonstrates integrity and excellence in his undertakings," said Arman Pazouki, lead computational specialist in Northwestern IT's Research Computing Services group.James Panegasser photo and quote

Nominators from the Research Computing Infrastructure (RCI) team noted that while many teams worked from home during the pandemic, Panegasser's role necessitated him working in the data center, assisting teams day and night—including weekends—with hardware deployments, troubleshooting, and installing new hardware. They believe that a significant portion of the University's research effort would have been severely delayed without his tireless commitment, ultimately impacting hundreds of its top researchers.

Panegasser also advanced the level of service the SOC offers Starlight customers on the Chicago campus, served as the point person for coordination with the High Performance Computing team, and was an integral member of the team responsible for the maintenance and refresh of the Quest environment.

“When working on an effort with James, I have full confidence that it will be accomplished successfully,” said Steve Kwak, director of processing and information platform services. “I can consult with James for his perspective on a topic, and I always walk away having learned something to help improve Northwestern IT and the University.”

In addition to his project work, Panegasser demonstrates leadership in the SOC through his ability to develop team members and improve the quality of their work. He is a moderator of bi-weekly cross-team sessions and trains new data center technicians during their onboarding.

“It is an honor to be recognized by my peers for going above and beyond, and I am grateful for their nomination,” said Panegasser when asked for his reaction to earning the honor. “With the support of the Research Computing Infrastructure team, I was able to contribute in a meaningful way and accomplish many goals quickly. I enjoy problem-solving and always look forward to learning and growing on the job.”

Panegasser was one of 11 nominees for the 2021 award. Congratulations to the nominees: Casey Colby, Christine Ganjani, Jason Miller, Lori Blum, Nick Evans, Omar Negron, Ramya Sivasubramanian, Robert Trujillo, Russell Haley, and Sarah Dillard.

Learn more about the Northwestern IT Employee Excellence Award.

Two Project Teams Earn FY21 Recognition

With four highly impactful projects up for the Project Team Excellence Award (PTEA) in FY21, two projects rose to the top and were recognized at the February 17 meeting—Advising System Replacement and the Zoom Implementation. Both projects were awarded quarterly recognition in the second quarter of FY21.

The Advising System Replacement team was recognized for evaluating and replacing the University's existing advising system, which is used by a myriad of students and faculty each day. The team scored above a nine in three areas, including Team Collaboration, NU Behaviors, and Methodologies.

The advising project team demonstrated success with a new approach to structuring a project advisory committee with broad school representation and selected a vendor that streamlined the transition process for students and advisors. The new vendor exhibited all the features of the previous existing platform but added additional features to benefit students and staff.

“In addition to having a successful implementation of ConnectNU, this project has already been used as an example of best practices in the way that they worked with implementing a cloud-based enterprise solution,” said Allison Porterfield, director of Enterprise Systems Human Resources and Student at Northwestern IT.

Despite project delays due to COVID-19 concerns, the new system implementation went smoothly, with positive feedback and very few issues from students, staff, and other users. Porterfield shared that 15,000 advising appointments had been made by the end of FY21 through ConnectU, which was put into place in November 2020.

“This was just an incredibly delivered project across complex partnerships,” said Sean Reynolds, vice president for information technology and chief information officer.

Advising System Replacement

Project Team Excellence Award

The project team included: Elizabeth Summers (project manager) | Phil Tracy | Serena Christian  Samatha Bodanapu | Swathika Ganesan | Lucy He | April Zhang | Heather Barnes | Jeff Wilson  Terry Collins | Ron Blitz | John Llanes | Ken Turner | Meerim Musabaeva

Team members outside Northwestern IT included: Charlotte Stowe, John Taflan, Nicholas Tonozzi, David Zohfeld, and Lee West

The second project honored was the Zoom Implementation project, where the main objective was to move all teaching and learning web conferencing from BlueJeans to Zoom. The switch to Zoom was the most strategic option for the University, as the platform offered more features and options than BlueJeans or Webex. The project also involved integrating Canvas, Panopto, and Zoom, which ultimately allowed a streamlined approach to support remote instruction.

The project received high marks in multiple categories. In particular, the team scored perfect in the University Impact category, as the March 2020 launch date unintentionally coincided with the transition to remote working, teaching, and learning due to the pandemic. That spring, more than 700 instructors attended Zoom workshops.

“The folks who normally support classroom technology quickly pivoted and became Zoom experts overnight,” said Ken Panko, director of Media and Technology Innovation at Northwestern IT. “This was really, really collaborative.”

In addition to being a more secure platform, the transition to Zoom provided an initial cost savings to the University.

In FY21 alone, the University logged 1.95M Zoom meetings, nearly 670M meeting minutes, and hosted 11.4M meeting participants. Speaking about the project's impact at the February 17 meeting, Reynolds noted, “The effort of the staff across schools, across NUIT... it went off better than we could have anticipated.”

Zoom Implementation

Project Team Excellence Award

The project team included: Deirdre Lee (project manager) | Mike Curtis | Mike Dice | Zoran Ilic  Jake Collins | Alyssa Dyar | Anna Luce | Jonathan Diehl | Rachel Goc | Reggie Jackson | Chris Puente | Javier Huerta | Mylowe Wooley | Josephine Anderson | Natalie Gillespie | Robert Zilligen | Christine Ganjani | Blake Wehlage | Lester Greenman

Team members outside Northwestern IT included: Jim Konrad, David Zohfeld, and Joseph Kline

Learn more about the Northwestern IT Project Team Excellence Award.

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