How I Work: Sarah Benkendorf, Lab Systems Support Specialist, IT

October 21st, 2015 by carlin_corrigan

Name: Sarah Benkendorf

Job Title, Department: Lab Systems Support Specialist

Current Mobile Device(s): iPhone 5S

Current Computer(s): Late 2013 iMac running Yosemite

One word that describes how you work: Obsessively (I tend to get focused on one particular problem and keep working at it until I solve it.)

Describe a typical day: I check my email on my ride in on the Red Line and start planning what I need to tackle as soon as I get in and what can wait for a little later in the day. After a brief walk from Park St and stop for coffee, I sit down at my desk and check Slack and Zendesk to see if the students working at the Help Desk the night before have reported any problems in a lab or classroom that I need to check out before a class starts. Then I spend the rest of the day alternating between solving problems remotely from my desk and visiting labs or classrooms in person in order to tackle some of the more puzzling or difficult problems.

What apps, software, or tools can’t you live without? Why? Slack and Google Drive are pretty crucial to my day-to-day work. Slack lets me stay in touch with all of the staff in the IT Department, including the student staff who answer the phones at the Help Desk and go into labs, classrooms, and offices to solve problems in person. So a student can be troubleshooting an issue in a classroom for a professor and I can walk them through how to fix it over Slack without them ever having to leave the classroom or professor!

I use Google Drive to collaborate on projects with other people on my team and to write documentation on how to do certain things so that way if I’m ever out on vacation or sick at home, the other people on my team can read my documentation and know exactly what to do.

Outside of work, I use TickTick, a to-do list app which helps me keep everything else in my life a little more organized.

What is your office or desk like? Tidy or chaotic? I like to keep my work area fairly clean, which can be difficult with so many computers around, so I try to tidy up my desk throughout the day. Once it reaches a certain point of chaos, I stop whatever I’m doing and clean the whole area up. I always have some tea at my desk too, so if I’m ever feeling particularly stressed, I can stop and take a break by making myself a cup of tea. It’s a good way to take a step away from my work without leaving the office.


What’s your best time-saving shortcut or life hack? There’s a feature I love in Slack where you can have Slackbot remind you to do a task. If you type /remind me at TIME to DO THIS, Slackbot will remind you at that time to do that task even if it’s days or weeks away! It’s really helpful because a lot of the work I do is in the classrooms, which are usually jam-packed during the weeks, so having a little reminder that a gap in the schedule is coming up is great!

What do you use to keep track of your schedule? I use the OWA WebClient Calendar and the Calendar app on my phone.

What’s your favorite lunch spot around Emerson? I’m a fan of the Clover Food Truck that sits parked outside Park St Station. It’s a bit of a walk, but it’s always worth it. My go-to meal is the chickpea fritter with an order of rosemary fries.

What music do you listen to while you work? I listen to 8tracks a lot during the day because I like being able to pick and choose from a variety of super awesome, user-curated playlists. It’s like having a bunch of friends who all make super awesome mix CDs. Right now I’m listening to a mix called Fantastic Beasts, which is full of fantastical, instrumental soundtracks.

What’s your favorite GIF? No.

How I Work: Laurie Walton, Senior Administrative Associate, IT

September 17th, 2015 by carlin_corrigan

Name: Laurie Walton

Job Title, Department: Sr. Administrative Associate, IT

Current Mobile Device(s): Android Mini

Current Computer(s): iMac 2011 & MacBook Air 2012 both running Yosemite

One word that describes how you work: Uncomplicated

Describe a typical day: On a typical day, I’m managing multiple calendars, answering questions, and assisting with budgets. I mainly use my iMac, but often work via my Macbook Air laptop and my phone. I’m always checking email and phone messages so that I can stay on top of requests that come in or actions I have to take.

What apps, software, or tools can’t you live without? Why? My mail and calendar client of choice is the Outlook Web App, because it’s web accessible and it’s easy to use. My email is a very useful tool in keeping me organized. I leave messages unread if the task has not been completed or if I need to follow up at a later date. I also sort budget or finance related emails and documents into subfolders, which is a great archiving resource.

Another app I use is Slack, a chat and IM client, which allows me to be in close contact with the entire IT department and other Emerson departments. It’s an amazing app for general discussion, quick answers, and emergencies.

Google Drive is also a wonderful resource. I can share documents and keep meeting minutes via the cloud, without having to take up space locally or in an inbox. I also don’t have to remember to send updates after the fact, as everything is updated automatically.

What is your office or desk like? Tidy or chaotic? My desk is organized with a touch of chaos. Lists of phone numbers, department information, and administrative related documents all have a place, but the fun de-stressers are constantly in a different place. =)

What do you use to keep track of your schedule? My Exchange calendar and I sync that to the Calendar app on my phone. Any appointment or reminder goes directly to my calendar, an organized brain is a happy brain.

What’s your best time-saving shortcut or life hack? Copying and pasting from document to document or when creating budgetary requisitions. Also, taking pictures of an item that may contain a lot of information. This is extremely helpful for me as I can use the picture for reference later, get rid of trash more quickly (such as a packaging label or invoice), or simply sending it to another individual for reference or fast approval.

What’s your favorite lunch spot around Emerson? I love eating under the trees in Commons. My favorite restaurant is Iron Wok in the Transportation building…. mmmm bourbon chicken!

Emerson IT featured in Educause Review

September 10th, 2015 by Francis Frain

Director of Networking and Telecommunications Frankie Frain’s piece on the Emerson IT Department’s use of the web-based software platform Slack for internal communications was published by higher education technology publication Educause Review.

Frain addresses the evolution of “chat-based” software and Slack’s ability to “create channels for focused discussions.”

Read Frain’s piece in Educause Review.

How I Work: Michael Labrecque-Jessen, User Services Manager

August 21st, 2015 by carlin_corrigan

Name: Michael Labrecque-­Jessen

Job Title, Department: User Services Manager, IT

Current Mobile Device(s): iPhone 6 for now and an iPad Air 2

Current Computer(s): 27” iMac Mid­-2011 and 13” MacBook Pro Retina Mid­-2013

One word that describes how you work: Coffee. That’s how I work.

Describe a typical day: I usually try to deal with any overnight email on my commute in, which helps make the morning go a little smoother. We have Help Desk student staff here until midnight during the week, but if there were calls that they couldn’t address or any self­-service tickets put in overnight, those are all next on my list, and I try to take care of those as soon as I get to my desk. We’ve worked really hard to make the customer’s experience with the Help Desk better, and a big part of that is how long you wait for a response. The rest of the day is split between meetings, keeping an eye on the queue, my projects, and plain old support at the Help Desk. Throughout the day I’ll answer questions from our student staff, and even jump in to help customers when necessary.

I try my best to leave on time and encourage my staff to do the same. When need be, of course, we’re here early or late, but I’m a big believer in the work/personal life balance, and it’s important to just stop and go home!

What apps, software, or tools can’t you live without? Why? Slack has absolutely transformed the way we work and communicate. We used to use a combination of IRC and Jabber, but Slack is orders of magnitude more powerful. I’m on 6 different Slack teams for work and personal life!

Tweetbot syncs my unread position in my Twitter timeline across all my devices, which I just couldn’t ever go back on now.

I’m one of about 3 people left that cares about RSS, and I practically live in Reeder. It’s not perfect, but it’s close, and it’s how I get virtually all of my tech news updates.

Fluid is a miracle. I love webapps, but I’m really bad with browser tabs. At any given time, I might have 50-­80 tabs open split between 3-­6 Chrome windows. You shouldn’t do this, by the way. Chrome isn’t very good with MacBook battery life. But I need to take my own medicine.

Anyway, Fluid ­- Fluid creates a “single site browser” so I can have a dedicated app only for one specific website, with its own icon and spot on my dock. For example, I have one for Emerson’s ECmail webapp and one for Google Inbox. This really helps me separate and organize those critical pages from the rest of my everyday web browsing. Maybe not for everyone, but I couldn’t do without it, and it’s free.

But most of all, 1Password. I don’t really know what any of my passwords are anymore, and it’s wonderful. Regular passwords, one­-time time-­based passwords, serial numbers, everything’s in there protected by one really great password, and with browser extensions (and the new share extension in iOS 8) everything gets filled in for me.

What is your office or desk like? Tidy or chaotic? Chaotic, mostly! Every few months I get the idea that I should clean up, and I do, and I like it! But I have a lot of trouble keeping that up for long. I know where the important things are. This is….mid-cleanup, believe it or not:


What do you use to keep track of your schedule? Outlook WebApp on the computer, Outlook for iOS on mobile. It’s not perfect, but love it or hate it, Emerson uses Exchange and nothing else really integrates as well.

What’s your best time­-saving shortcut or life hack? Both OS X and iOS have built-­in text expansion that you can totally customize. So, for example, on your iPhone you can type “tyr” and when you hit space, it’ll expand to “Thank you, I’ll reply when I’ve looked into it more.” That’s one of the built-­in messages. I use this for filling in my email address, because it works everywhere. @@ for my Gmail, @@@ for my Emerson.

How do you manage your email inbox? “Mark as Unread” usually. It’s a little amateurish, but that’s what helps me know what I still need to deal with. Same as my desk, sometimes I get the idea that I should really clean out my inbox. And every few weeks I do, but I just can’t ever maintain it for long. I’ve never been an Inbox Zero kind of person. I want to be, but I’m too much of a procrastinator!

What’s your favorite lunch spot around Emerson? Gotta be Maria’s Taqueria. We have some great options, but Maria’s quesadilla is too good. I almost always pack a lunch, but if I don’t, I’ll usually head for Maria’s.

How I Work: Frankie Frain, Director of Networking and Telecommunications

July 20th, 2015 by carlin_corrigan

Name: Frankie Frain

Job Title, Department: Director of Networking and Telecommunications, IT

Current Mobile Device(s): iPhone 6

Current Computer(s): MacBook Air 2013, running Yosemite, Mac Mini 2012, running Yosemite

One word that describes how you work: lists

Describe a typical day: I manage a team of Systems and Networking administrators. Together, we manage the college’s data infrastructure, including the wireless and wired networks, the health and backup of all servers, and our network security. On a typical day, I’m answering questions and submitting requests (almost all by email), and attending meetings (I attend about four meetings a day). I live on my Macbook Air laptop and my iPhone. I find myself glancing at email constantly, either to put out fires before they happen, or to stay on top of requests that come into my department or actions I have to take to get my requests fulfilled.

What apps, software, or tools can’t you live without? Why? My whole life is in my email – I treat my Inbox as a task list. If there’s a message in the inbox, it’s because I have to take action on it. If I don’t have to take action, I delete or sort the message. My mail client of choice is the Outlook Web App, because it’s web accessible and doesn’t push/pull mail in a way that causes syncing problems. The other app I have open constantly is a chat and IM client called Slack, which allows me to be in close contact with the entire IT department and its student workers at all times. It’s great for general knowledge, general discussion, and emergencies. I also really enjoy the ability to log into the Softphone from home so I can answer my work extension when working remotely – no one knows I’m not at work!

What is your office or desk like? Tidy or chaotic? I don’t much value my physical office/physical desk. Everything I need to do can be done on my laptop or on my home computer. So my desk is pretty tidy, because it’s very sparse. Instead, I have a couch, whiteboard, and many seats in my office so the space can act as a small meeting space or collaboration room with my staff.

What do you use to keep track of your schedule? My Exchange calendar, almost exclusively, and I sync that to the Calendar app on my iPhone. If I need to be someplace at a certain time, it goes onto the Calendar, without exceptions. One dirty secret I have is that I mark lunch on my calendar from 12 to 1 so that it’s less likely that people will schedule meetings at that time.

What’s your best time­-saving shortcut or life hack? Using keyboard shortcuts as much as humanly possible. Using the mouse to get to everything (like copying/pasting or quitting a window) adds several seconds to every task, which honestly adds up after a while.

How do you manage your email inbox? As described above, I’m obsessive about responding and then sorting my email. I’m a bit paranoid that if I don’t keep on top of the pile, it will become unmanageable and things will fall through the cracks. So I try to keep myself and my team on top of all requests or action items as they come in. Additionally, I forward all voice-mail to my email, so that I never have to check the phone, and I can manage voice-mails just like email. If I can avoid talking on the phone, I do – I find it to be a bit time consuming and difficult to fit in impromptu phone discussions when I’m in meetings most of the day.

What’s your favorite lunch spot around Emerson? I love the Number 2 at Lambert’s Deli, across from the Park Street T stop. I tend to eat with some friends from IT (and sometimes other departments) in the Piano Row Cafeteria on the second floor.

Lab Operations: A Year in Review

June 22nd, 2015 by carlin_corrigan


Ah, summertime! A great time to reflect on the past year and have some fun with data. Pulling reports from our print server (Pharos), our ticketing system (Footprints) and data from the computers in our classrooms, labs and kiosks (LabStats) we thought it would be fun to share some statistics from the past year.


While many of us strive to go green these days, our campus printers are still seeing a lot of use. During the Spring 2015 semester alone, there were over 65,000 transactions and 423,000 pages printed!



Back in February, we posted our Customer Service Report for the Fall 2014 semester which included total tickets that Emerson IT took in (over 5,300!) Here, we are honing in specifically on tickets that were resolved by the Lab Operations staff. Between September 2014 and May 2015, our team resolved 871 tickets. The chart below also lists out the total tickets resolved per lab space. Most active space? Library. Runner up? Kiosks.




According to the data, between September 2014 and May 2015 we welcomed over 5,200 unique users across all lab and classroom spaces. The computers were used in total for about 11,400 days with an average session length of 2 hours 39 minutes. We’re not surprised that the most popular app was Google Chrome, or that the most popular space was the reference kiosks in the library, but we are interested to see that the most popular computer station, used by 55 users for a total of 108 days, is station 3 in the CAD Lab.

The total logins per lab are also reported below. Kiosks are the clear and away winner, with 34,019 logins over the course of the year. Since the kiosks are generally used for quick print jobs or checking email, this makes sense. It is also understandable that the classroom computers would have a high number of logins since instructors cycle through those spaces regularly every day.




We can’t wait to see what the Fall 2015 semester brings! If you have any comments or questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out in the comments below, tweet @EmersonIT, or email!


How I Work: Carlin Corrigan, User Services Coordinator

June 18th, 2015 by carlin_corrigan

Name: Carlin Corrigan

Job Title, Department: User Services Coordinator, Lab Operations, IT

Current Mobile Device(s): iPhone 5s

Current Computer(s): iMac 2012 running Yosemite

One word that describes how you work: methodically

Describe a typical day: My focus is on the student employees who work at the Help Desk and in various labs across campus. We have around 38 students on staff rotating every semester, so I am constantly working on their schedules, making sure they are punching in on time, and supporting them if they have questions or run into issues while at work. On a typical day, I have many browser tabs open so I can keep an eye on student schedules, support tickets coming in, lab reservation requests being made, email, Twitter, and Slack.

What apps, software, or tools can’t you live without? Why? My favorite tool is Slack, a chat app that allows our team to stay in contact from anywhere on campus. We have students working in multiple buildings and being sent around campus to help support technology, and this way we can keep tabs on everyone and all provide assistance with troubleshooting issues to get things resolved quickly and efficiently. Slack has also been incredibly useful for keeping in touch with staff outside of business hours. Our staff can set notifications to pop up on our smart phones if there is an emergency and we need to be reached. Students don’t need to have a list of private cell phone numbers, they can reach us and communicate with the team member who can best help them in the fastest way possible.

What is your office or desk like? Tidy or chaotic? Tidy. Most of my work is done on the computer. I like to have two monitors so that I can multi­task. If there is paperwork to be done, I try to keep it filed. When there is too much clutter, I tend to work less efficiently. I usually have snacks and a cup of tea nearby. It is also important to me that students and staff feel comfortable coming to me with any issues or just to catch up, so my visitor chair is often occupied.


What do you use to keep track of your schedule? I use my Exchange calendar to keep track of my daily to-­do as well as appointments. If I have something tied to a deadline, I block out the estimated time it takes to get it done. If I don’t finish in the time I allotted, I move the appointment to the next day or next available time. I set myself lots of reminders. This helps me be realistic about what’s on my plate, and I am able to get more done. It’s also a nice reference for when I’m reflecting on my performance for the week or the year.

What’s your best time­-saving shortcut or life hack? I am a fan of face-­to-­face meetings as long as there is a clear agenda. Sometimes getting together in person is the fastest way to hash out a problem, get details or answers. But if the purpose of the meeting is unclear or someone is not driving the conversation, it can be a big waste of time. A few of us get together every week as the Communications Team to discuss the need for emails, tweets or blog posts about upgrades, outages, or policy changes. We use a simple Google Doc to keep a list of what we need to discuss, and to make notes and follow­ups. If there is nothing major pending, we simply postpone the meeting until the next week. It’s a simple system but seems to work really well for us!

How do you manage your email inbox? I try to stay on top of my emails as they come in. I hate seeing notifications that I have unread messages. I use flags for things that I can’t respond to or take action on immediately. I create folders and filters for recurring emails like News and Newsletters or Reports so I can still read and access them, but they don’t show up in my inbox. I filter out any unsolicited emails to the trash. At the end of every semester, I go through and delete the contents in folders I don’t need any more.

What’s your favorite lunch spot around Emerson? I am a big fan of Genki Ya sushi! They have a lunch combo that includes soup and salad. They also have an online ordering system so it’s a quick pick­up!

Eliminating 8 Day Public

May 7th, 2015 by carlin_corrigan

Beginning May 20th, 8 Day Public will no longer be available for temporary storage space in the labs and kiosks. To meet the needs of increasing file sizes and sharing, we recommend using one of our many secure and accessible storage solutions:

Pages: All Emerson students, staff, and faculty are provided 2GB of space on a server called Pages, which is backed up nightly. This can be used for file storage and to host web content. To learn how to connect to Pages, see this guide.

Cabinet: Cabinet is a staff and faculty resource for storing confidential and departmental documents, accessible only on the internal Emerson network. Each staff and faculty member has a private folder on Cabinet and each department has a shared, internal folder for collaborating and sharing. For information on how to connect from on and off campus, read this guide.

Google Drive: Did you know that your Emerson account comes with unlimited Google Drive space to create and share Google docs and store files of any type? Simply log in at and check out this guide for more.

Bin (Isilon): Bin is a specialized storage space for post production video editing over the network. For more info, read this guide. Box is a cloud storage solution similar to Dropbox or Google Drive to make storing and sharing documents easier for all users. We’re planning to introduce this to the Emerson community later this year.

Used for Who can use What you need to access How much storage Guide
Pages Documents, files, folders Emerson staff, faculty, students On campus: Link on all lab computers and kiosks Off campus: Connect using FTP 2GB Pages Guide
Google Drive Documents, files, folders Emerson staff, faculty, students On or off campus: Internet access Unlimited Google Apps Guide
Cabinet Documents, files, folders Emerson staff and faculty On campus: Connect while you’re on the Emerson network Off campus: Connect using VPN 2GB Cabinet Guide
Bin (Isilon) Video editing and media Emerson staff, faculty, and students On campus: Connect while you’re on the Emerson network Students: 120GB Staff/Faculty: 500GB Bin (Isilon) Guide Documents, files, folders Emerson staff and faculty On or off campus: Internet access TBD


Get the Word Out, Part Three: Think Like a Newsperson

March 13th, 2015 by Robin Chace

Welcome to the third and final installation of Get the Word Out. This week, we’re focusing on using your email’s own text to attract readers. It helps to put yourself into the mindset of a traditional newspaper writer.


Imagine Lou Grant as your grumpy fairy godeditor.

Traditional, printed newspapers have limited space, so articles often get cut short to fit into the layout. News writers put the main points (i.e. the 5 Ws) at the start of their article, then fill in additional details below. This way, the pertinent information will remain if the article is truncated.

Think of your readers’ attention span as an overworked news editor poised to chop off anything past the first paragraph. Here’s how to adapt:

Don’t bury the lede

Use a clear, specific subject line: let your readers know why this email is worth opening in the first place. A generic subject (“Weekly Newsletter”) is not likely to pique anyone’s interest, but something more specific (“News: Breakroom Foosball”) will work better. Read this post for more in-depth suggestions.

In the body of your email, get the salient points out in the first sentence or two—before your reader can get distracted. Also, remember that modern inboxes show a preview of the first 100 characters or so of an email, so use this to your advantage!

Seriously, take the preview text into account!

Seriously, take the preview text into account!

Keep it short

A wall of text is intimidating, and an overwhelmed user won’t even begin to read one in an email (even if they earmark it “for later”). Make your email feel like less of a chore to read:

  • Shave down unnecessary words (but not to the point of sounding robotic)
  • Combine ideas into one phrase (where reasonable)
  • Use short paragraphs and lists to break up the text into manageable chunks
Figure recoiling in fear at a long, dense string of text with no paragraph breaks.

This illustration from demonstrates the “wall of text” effect.

This document is broken up into sections to keep from overwhelming the reader

This document has been broken up into sections and steps to make it easier to read

Now, Get the Word Out!

These last three posts have addressed ways mass emails can be made more accessible and appealing to your readers. It honestly boils down to making it as easy as possible for your audience!

Get the Word Out, Part Two: Design for Devices

March 6th, 2015 by Robin Chace

Last week, I wrote about increasing a mass email’s reach by making sure it’s legible for all your audience members. Today’s post is about making sure your email is legible across different devices.

Picture perfect?

You’re competing for your audience’s attention, so you want to send out something eye-catching. You’ll probably want to make sure everything looks just perfect. This can be done by making a page layout for your message, then sending the whole thing as an image, but don’t.

Why not?

This practice immediately excludes part of your audience (by being inaccessible), and can also frustrate the rest of your readers. People using mobile devices will find themselves trying to scale the image just to make the letters big enough to read, and/or scrolling in all directions to see the entire message. Also, many email clients block images by default, so your readers won’t see the message until they click “display images” or “show content.”

This is basically asking your audience to do work. Nobody wants to do work. It’s easier for them to move past your email without reading it.

Invitation image scaled to fit within an iPhone screen, then zoomed for the text to be a legible size.

This invitation is too small to read when the iPhone scales it down to fit the screen. Zooming in, however, cuts off content, requiring the reader to scroll back and forth to read it all.

So then what? Be flexible!

I understand the strong desire to make your email “pixel perfect,” but, honestly, you (and your audience!) are better served by giving up some control.

You may have heard of “responsive” design, a popular trend in web design where content is resized and rearranged to gracefully adapt to the width of any size screen, be it a 27″ iMac or an iPhone 4. You can see this in action at (if you’re on a computer, just make the browser window really small to see the effect). The Foundation website is another great example (as well as an excellent framework for creating responsive websites and web apps).

Allowing this flexibility delivers an optimal experience for each kind of device.

How can I do this?

If (like most of us) you compose your emails in an application like Outlook, stick to using the default HTML editor to write and style your content. This way, your text will be able to wrap to adapt to your readers’ screens, instead of being shrunk down to fit. It’s a basic approach, but there is nothing wrong with that!

If, however, you’re fancy enough to code your own emails, this guide from Campaign Monitor is helpful.

This invitation was created with some of Gmail’s styling options. The image scaling does not affect the text size. Also, the iPhone has made the date and times into convenient links for adding to a calendar!

Form follows function

You send mass email in order to communicate with an audience. Decorative elements are a little something extra to attract attention (they really like attention). Don’t let them steal the spotlight, though, as it will defeat the purpose of sending a message at all.

Here are some fun examples where form has perhaps overstepped function:

Set of silverware made partially of limp rope.

A “rustic-chic” silverware set by artist Giuseppe Colarusso.

Converse-style shoe with pointy toe and stiletto heel.

You probably shouldn’t play basketball in these Chucks.

Toilet with decorative goldfish in the tank.

The poor fish never had a chance…


Toast up! Toast down!


…Next week is Part 3: Think Like a Newsperson!