Interview with Liz Christopher, 03/17/2022

UW Oshkosh Campus Stories
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OB: Okay, this is Olivia Basiliere along with Tyler Babalola interviewing Liz Christopher on Thursday, March 17 2022 for campus COVID stories. Campus. Campus COVID stories is a collection of oral stories from students and staff at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh about their experiences in the time of COVID. Thank you for sharing your stories with us. Before we get started, could you please state your name and spell it for us?

LC: Sure. My name is Liz Christopher L I Z space C H R I S T O P H ER.

OB: Now for the purposes of getting a good audio recording, tell us again who you are and what your title is here at UW Oshkosh.

LC: My name is Liz Christopher and my title here UW Oshkosh now is IT lead for user services and access campuses.

OB: Before we dive into your campus COVID story, we'd like to get to know you a little better. Tell me about where you grew up.

LC: I grew up in Hartford, Wisconsin, which is somewhere between the exits from Milwaukee and the exit for West Bend on highway 41. If you've ever driven down 00:01:00that way. When I first when we first moved there when I was three, there are about 6000 people now it's about 15,000. So it grew a little bit. It's very, very Catholic, very, very Caucasian. Disappointingly, my family did their best. And you know, when you grow up in that, that kind of area, it's very conservative, and very just go with the flow don't change anything. So that's kind of how I was until I came up here for college, which is where I got my degree--here. I don't know if I'm going to just go into that question right away. Or if you want me to talk a little bit more. So I went here for school. I started in 2008. I'm a first generation student. So it took me six years to get through my degree. I went through, I think four different majors, and I ended up getting a bachelor in Fine Arts in 3d studio art.


OB: Okay. How did you come to work at UW Oshkosh.

LC: So I worked here as a student, I started in our helpdesk area, which is now like, just across the way here. And I started at our help desk in 2009. And then I had a few different student jobs in it, ranging in responsibility. When I graduated, I realized that I really enjoyed working in it. And I didn't want to, so I left the university and worked just off campus at a smaller little location, their service desk, I realized that I didn't really like doing help desk calls all day. So a position opened up here in our student technology area. And I started working there in October of 2014. And then I just changed positions from there to where I am now.

OB: Cool. So tell me about your position at UWO, pre-COVID? And then what about 00:03:00after like post COVID? And then I did notice that you are part of the Senate of Academic staff. You could talk a little bit about their COVID response as well.

LC: Sure. Okay. So pre-COVID, I worked in our device support area, which primarily assists faculty and staff members with their devices that they like use in their offices. So a lot of that pre-COVID was going to their office, fixing their computer, having those conversations with people getting their new computer set up, post-COVID. As you can imagine, things are a little bit different. It's a lot more, I'm sure you've noticed, like tons more laptops. We transitioned one of our spare rooms into like a pickup and drop off location. So a lot of faculty and staff members drop off their equipment for us to fix. Especially like immediately pre COVID or post COVID. It was very, very few. 00:04:00Very, very few office visits. A lot of people even still are kind of apprehensive about having somebody else in their office. So it changed a lot in terms of where we were going but not necessarily what we were doing. A lot of that kind of remain the same before and after. And then as far as Senate went--their COVID response actually worked out pretty well. We were across the board in IT and just across the institution. I mean I'm sure not sure if you two were here in 2020 when everything happened like spring of 2020 No, okay. All right. So it was like almost to the day we got a notice that the that most people were after spring break, not coming back to campus. So it was kind of all 00:05:00hands on deck in terms of transitioning things to virtual, including the Senate academic staff, we actually just had teams meetings after. After COVID started, so before we moved, meet in person, and talk, I'm also on the exec committee. So we would talk weekly. One week, we have exactly the next week, we have Senate meetings. And with that transition pretty seamlessly to virtual and post COVID. We've stayed virtual, mostly for our access campus friends who would like to join in on the meeting, it makes sense. And we're kind of all spread across campus. So it's nice to just stay in your office and have those meetings.

OB: Yeah. So we can move to the early days of COVID. Now, when was the first time you remember hearing about COVID-19?

LC: The first time I heard about COVID-19, I think was in January, on the news. And via the news. I mean, on Facebook. And on Reddit, mostly. Yeah. So yeah, on 00:06:00the internet, for the most part, and you know, hearing about it happening overseas. And then early, I think it was early in January, when there was the ship that came into the dock and California that had to quarantine and that's when you were like, oh, okay, this is kind of how it is now. So that was the first time I remember hearing about it. And like I remember thinking like, Oh, crap, this is it's happening.

OB: What was your initial reaction to the news?

LC: Um, I think like a lot of people, I was like, oh, you know, it'll be like the flu. It'll come and then it'll leave and everything will be fine. And it won't be that big of a deal.

OB: How would you describe your feelings about the disease itself, now?

LC: Now? Um, I think that, you know, we, in the early days, I think we were 00:07:00rightfully cautious of, of the disease itself. It's an unknown. So you'd rather take more caution than then be kind of free with it. So I think that we did the right thing. In hindsight, I know, it's always hard to kind of talk that way. But being as cautious as we were, I think that especially like with within the community, it prevented a lot of bad things from happening. And I think that we've been pretty good in terms of response, I think, especially at the institution, we've done well, and like, following what the recommendations are advocating for the scientific approach. I think we've done pretty good too.

OB: Now, let's talk about your situation when the university closed the campus in mid March. What were your feelings as everything UW Oshkosh, and everywhere else in mid March started shutting down all of a sudden,

LC: um, like I said, I think I think we were rightfully cautious. And I think 00:08:00that, given what we knew, at that point, we had done the right thing. It was scary, you can imagine. And I knew that there was going to be a lot expected of us as IT with trying to help people transition into the new way that we are going to be working.

OB: So then you can describe what happened in your department? What did you discuss with your team? Like, kind of about what you needed to do? Could you include, like, who you oversee? How many people you oversee? Kind of give us a scale?

LC: Yeah, for sure. Um, so like I mentioned, so after the first news that we got from campus about this was actually on, I think, March 17. Of 2020.

OB: Is that today?

LC: It is today, yes.


OB: Okay

LC: Yeah. Yeah. So like two years ago today, Chief Leibold. from the University, police sent out a message. Like we're monitoring the situation, we'll keep you updated. And then what we discussed. I mean, everything from what do we need to do to get ourselves ready? What are we doing? I had at that point. Six student employees, I think, and there were six other people in my area. I wasn't a lead at that point. So in my in my team, I had six other full time staff that were coworkers and six student employees. So how do we get them ready? Like are we is the plan for all of us to leave campus? Do we have to work from home? What do we do about faculty and staff members who want to take their computers home? How do we handle those, those requests through those types of devices? What do we have to 00:10:00do to get those ready to make that switch?

OB: Yeah, that sounds like a very small amount of employees for the, you know, compared to the size of the university, which kind of leads into my next question was, what was it like dealing with the sheer volume of students and teachers contacting you for assistance? Because I think we have maybe 10,000 students here on campus, not including the professors, and what was like the comparison between pre COVID and post COVID? I know, that's kind of a lot in one question

LC: Sure. Um, so in terms of volume of students, like contacting students and teachers contacting us, I think we did a pretty good job as an institution, and kind of in IT itself, communicating some of the things that were like, absolutely need to know, especially to students, because we don't really have a lot of face-to-face contact with students, unless they're like coming into the 00:11:00office, right. Um, so we did send out a lot of emails, we thankfully, we have an incredible, incredible endpoint administration team, which so I handled like I would handle the computers. And point administration does things like make sure they get the software that they need. We have some deployment applications and things that allow you to do that. So it, it was trying to anticipate what people's needs were going to be, and then seeing if there was a good way to facilitate those. So a good example of that would be with our VPN, or virtual private network. So that'll, that allows people to access software and things from campus that are only allowed you that you're only allowed to access from a campus network. So we had to set it up so that everyone, every staff member of the campus could utilize that to get to things like our budget system, the software that they need to do their job, and those types of things. So we kind 00:12:00of got it was a lot, a lot, a lot of meetings to kind of figure out what people's needs were going to be, and then see how we could facilitate those the easiest way possible. It was stressful dealing with the number of people who need help. I don't, I don't even have an accurate number. Um, I think at one point we had, or early during COVID, we were keeping track of how many pieces of equipment people had taken home. And it was something like 500. And that's just things like desktops, that doesn't include like people's laptops, a lot of people use their personal devices. And students themselves. I mean, a lot of students have laptops, it was really just a matter of getting the information to them about how things were changing. But for the most part, I mean, with Canvas, 00:13:00and with email and those types of things. It wasn't I think it was more of an emotionally stressful situation for students more than it was a technologically leaps and bounds hurdle for students. Comparison of calls now that people are back on campus, I think it's very similar to how it was before. But, it, right, the difference is I think we get more calls and fewer walkins now, which is kind of strange, okay. And like I said, as far as computers, I think COVID transformed the types of devices that our employees were using. Before COVID, we had probably 80% of the computers that came in were desktops. So they would sit in people's offices and they would work in their office. Now we see about 80% 00:14:00laptops. So allowing those people that versatility to work from home or on campus or take them to meetings and things like that.

OB: Some employees roles were also deemed essential in that they were instructed to come to work in person were you among that group,


um, my role and a lot of the roles in it. It's not as black and white as that. A lot of the things that I transitioned into doing other things, a lot of help desk calls and things like that. So those were things that I could do from home, but there were a lot of times where I would have to come to campus to give somebody a computer or pick up a computer to fix it. So a little bit more gray. Just due to the number of orders that we had for devices, I came back to campus full time I'm in July of 2020. So only about three months after I had like, started working from home. But we, IT, in general was not necessarily had to 00:15:00come to work in person but deemed essential in terms of needing to still be employed and help.

OB: How did being labeled an essential worker make you feel? Usually we think of doctors and nurses, but you work in IT? Was this something you ever expected? How did this kind of redefine, like being employed in your occupation for you?

LC: I think that from an insight for like, IT always sees IT work as essential. I think it was really a matter of a shift in perspective, from the outsider's point of view. But especially talking about at this campus, having an understanding with administration about what things are essential, I think was difficult. But can't remember what the question was.


OB: Was an essential worker something you ever expected to be?

LC: No, not like that. I think that we, you know, we saw our work as important, and that it was worthwhile. But I would have never thought that it was essential before COVID.

OB: Who did you work most closely with executing your response to COVID-19.

LC: I worked really closely with it was also our my boss, the Chief Technology Officer. And our CIO, the Chief Information Officer, we're both part of the Emergency Operations Committee or Response Team. The EOC is the acronym. So they were both on that team. So we got a lot of information directly from them. And a lot of feedback about our like response plan and things like that came directly 00:17:00from EOC. I worked really closely, a lot of the a lot of the device support. About half of the device support team was a full time staff were furloughed. Sar worked really closely with the four people, the three people and myself that weren't furloughed, as well as our helpdesk manager. Because at that point, we had shifted a lot to virtual assistants. So in those cases, it was more like supporting people remotely. We worked very closely together to get people the help they needed, because they still needed assistance with things.

OB: What were your three biggest challenges regarding your work from the March of 2020, to December of 2021, please describe what needed to be done to your department and your area of responsibility.

LC: Initially, March to mid April of 2020, the biggest challenge was getting people set up. So they could be successful at home. Primarily, excuse me, taking 00:18:00devices home getting applications set up the way that they needed to be so that its staff and instructors could work and teach. During like I said once I came back, so like May through July. That was when I started coming to campus, because we had a lot of orders that were coming in for people to. So to get people to have the devices that they needed. That was a big challenge, because it was me and one other co worker that were still coming to campus to get all of the equipment ready for everyone else. And then thankfully, in July, we were able to get the rest of our furloughed staff back earlier than anticipated. Because we knew that in some capacity, we will be coming back to campus in fall, and we still had a lot of work to do to get classrooms and labs ready for that 00:19:00return. So biggest the biggest challenge in July was getting all of that stuff ready. And then just making sure people because with within this hybrid environment, starting in fall, there was a lot there was still a lot of remote support, and a lot of in person support. So just trying to manage the capacity of that was very difficult. And making sure that people were getting help in a timely manner.

OB: What were the most common issues you faced in it that had to do with COVID? How did it differ from professor to student?

LC: A lot of the common issues like I've mentioned, we're getting people the software that they needed getting them the equipment that they needed. Students it was more we also did a large multi factor authentication project. During the middle of COVID, which had students sign up for multi factor authentication 00:20:00through Microsoft, so trying to communicate that and work through that virtually was difficult. And that was a huge pain, a lot of students would contact the helpdesk ticket those things resolved. Yeah, I think it was, it was a lot of helping people learn how to transition from teaching face to face to teaching in person, and what sort of applications would be beneficial for them to do that? And then, yeah, new equipment.

OB: I noticed that sometimes people are not the nicest towards individuals who are work in IT What was the most frustrating thing? That has been said to you by a client? How did that make you feel?

LC: Um, I think it's hard for me to remember the worst thing that's ever been said to me, if that makes sense. I think a lot of people that work in Customer 00:21:00Support feel that way. Um, it's, you know, it always comes from a place of either, it's mostly frustration, people are upset and angry, not with you. But with the situation. And having been doing this a long time, I've come to develop a lot of tools to help me face that, and kind of mitigate that anger and put it where it's supposed to be, which is toward the thing that's making you mad, not towards the person. It doesn't mean it doesn't hurt when somebody says something mean. But I think honestly, for the most part, post COVID People have a lot more respect and understanding for IT than they did before.

OB: What three things are you most proud of regarding your response to COVID-19?

LC: I'm really happy that we were able to keep our student employees employed. 00:22:00For the most part, there was two weeks where unfortunately, we weren't able to have them work just from sheer panic. And we were told that we weren't able to have them work. But we found ways to have our students assist with things like taking help desk calls and doing some of that remote support from their homes. Because I know that it's you know, during that time was difficult for people to find work if they could find work at all. So I was really happy that we could do that for our students I really, in in this role, and in my previous role, I really focus on student engagement and ensuring that students have the support that they need. And that's a big part of our student employment strategy on campus. I am proud that we were able to get our summer projects enough done or 00:23:00done enough. In such a short amount of time that we could start the fall semester successfully. I can't even remember the number of things that we had to do, we had to flip around. I think we switched all of the computers in two labs during that time. There are a number of classroom upgrades that we completed all so that students were able to come back to campus and have those things there for them. Um, three, trying to think of a third thing. I can't really.

OB: That's okay.

LC: Okay.

OB: I had another question. So, how did you notice students struggling like your student workers struggling during COVID?

LC: Um, I think a lot of it was, you know, it's just it's the sheer amount of change that was occurring. It's hard for anyone to keep up with that. Right? So 00:24:00just seeing them trying to juggle work and school and their home lives too, because now they're stuck at their apartments or stuck with their families. That was a that was a big thing. And I think, for us to try and help with that we did. You know, we try as much as we can to give students an opportunity to take the time when we need it. I think that we I met with my students on a bi-weekly basis, one on one, just to talk about them and how things were going. And I made sure to emphasize a lot during those meetings that mental health is health. So if ever needed the time they could take it.

OB: Awsome, Alright. How is your job changed because This global pandemic, essentially, what do you think COVID has changed permanently in regards to your work?

LC: Um, I think that in regards to our work, I kind of mentioned the different 00:25:00the change in equipment that was coming in. I think that's a big thing. Also, I kind of mentioned people being a little bit more understanding about things going on. We also, we had a lot of security measures and policies in place, and a lot of I think, restrictions on access that didn't necessarily need to be there. So it's kind of taught us like, what things are absolutely essential, and what things could we maybe loosen up on to mitigate the amount of hoops people have to jump through. And that's changed that's kind of helped in terms of like the number of requests that we get. I think, across the board, our faculty and staff have learned a lot more about their computers during this process. So it's 00:26:00been the issues have been more severe for the ones that have come in rather than more, how do I do this thing on my computer, because they kind of had to learn a lot of that stuff on their own.

OB: A lot of people have left their jobs because of COVID because of the stress and having to readjust. Were there any moments where you felt burnt out? And what is it that makes you stay?

LC Absolutely, I think as we were returning to campus, there were a lot of priorities that placed on us by people outside of IT. And these were things that were in the needed to be done yesterday category. So those things kind of get to you a lot. And I think kind of across the board, just the sheer amount of change that occurred. Gets you tired. Um, I, what makes me stay I love the students. I 00:27:00love the people that I work with. I have a super supportive boss, who's there if I need anything. So it's really the community. I love working on campus because I love education. And I love seeing students come in as freshmen and then leave as even more successful adults than they started.

OB: In the fall of 2021, vaccines are readily available on campus and in fact, strongly advocated by administration and the CDC. What were your initial thoughts about the vaccines?

LC: I got them as soon as I could get them. I, My mom has MS. So for me, it was a matter of protecting people around me.

OB: What is normal to you now? Normal in quotes.

LC: Yes. Um before the pandemic, I would always ask people what is normal? And 00:28:00that hasn't changed. I think that a lot. You know, we in terms of work, we would assume oh, you come to campus and you work that's normal. I don't have that assumption anymore. I think that normal to me now is assuming less than I've ever assumed.

OB: That's good. That's a good way to think about it. Alright

TB: This is Tyler Babalola taking over for part two of the interview with Liz Christopher. Knowing what you know now, what would you what would you have changed about the way you work at UWO?

LC: what would I change about the way I work at UWO? Um, I think that, oh, I 00:29:00don't know. I think that I tried to be understanding about everyone's situation. Um And I feel like maybe I hadn't done that as much as I have now in the past. I love that we have the opportunity. I'm in a in an department where we have the opportunity to work from home when it's possible. I still am in a very face to face profession. I work with our user services area. So there for the most part here. Um, I think that we still need to do a better job communicating in IT that's something that we've never really been that good at and that's something that we could change. But we haven't.

TB: What do I was living and working during a time of code has taught you about 00:30:00yourself and others?

LC: I think that I learned to have a better work life balance. Um, My husband is a UPS driver and during COVID that was very stressful because he's very much out there. So I think, right, spending that time with people and not focusing on work when I'm not supposed to be focusing on work is something that I learned about myself.

TB: As long as we still have time, I wanted to ask you a few questions about how you personally in your private life, fared during COVID, would that be Okay?

LC: Yeah, that's fine.

TB: We were sent home a week before spring break. What did you do during spring break? March 2022, March 22 to march 29th 2020?


LC: We don't take spring break in IT. It's a full time 100% position. So a lot of work and a lot of meetings and a lot of prep to get people ready for the week after?

TB: Do you remember how long you thought the university would be closed?

LC: Um, yeah, I think that we were all gonna I thought at the time that we would all be back by summer.

TB: Where were you live and with whom? How did COVID protocols dealt with at first at your home?

LC: So I live at that point, he was my fiancée. We actually got married during COVID. So I was living with him. We have a house up in Neenah. Um and protocols when we first was when COVID first started. Like I mentioned, I was primarily at 00:32:00home. My husband was out delivering packages he never had any time off. Just due to due to concern, he would come home and immediately go down to wash the clothes that he had worn that day for fear of bringing that into the house. So we I would I still went to the grocery store, but I would be masked. Um and there was a lot of you know, staying away from people. But we made it work.

TB: Did you have a big wedding celebration at all?

LC: Um, so during our We got married in on May 23 of 2020. It was a teeny tiny ceremony with just his parents and sister, my parents and my brother. His mom 00:33:00was our officiant. Um and that was our official or official wedding date. We had to cancel we had a big thing planned. We actually thankfully, we're able to transition a lot of our ceremony and reception things to the year after. So we had a large reception. And we had our wedding ceremony, our real wedding ceremony during that same weekend, last year, and that was conveniently in between COVID and the Delta variant being large. So we were able to have the wedding that we wanted.

TB: Do you know anyone else to close to you, or even yourself who had contracted COVID and had gotten really sick? What were the symptoms?

LC: Thankfully, no one that I know immediately had, people have had COVID but 00:34:00nobody was very sick, very ill. I have a few friends that have small children who even recently they have contracted COVID multiple times. But thankfully, in all those cases, it was mild and they're all not vaccinated.

TB: With everything that happens, and so quickly, how were you feeling emotionally? How were the people around you're coping?

LC: Um, I think I was very stressed and understandably and worn down. I don't know I like to try and tough stuff out and not act like anything is wrong. I know my husband had was extremely stressed because he was coming in contact with people all of the time. We thankfully have very awesome family and friends who were also taking precautions. So we would do things like have socially distance 00:35:00visits. Like I said we had a wedding. So we I think we did okay, I think we're both me and my husband are both pretty strong people. Um and it always helps having those kinds of outlets. We have a good we have a set of good friends that we played games with monthly. So it's just nice to see somebody outside of our families every once in a while.

TB: You have anything else you'd like to add?

LC: Um, I don't think so.

TB: Thank you for sharing your stories with us. We appreciate your contribution to the campus COVID stories at UW Oshkosh.