UHV IT staff member works as part of ‘Can-Do Crew’

The University of Houston-Victoria user services administrator first became interested in technology through his enjoyment of computer-based video games.

Lawrence Nelson

“Back in the early days of computers and dial-up modem connections, it was not the easiest thing to do,” Lawrence Nelson said. “When a game didn’t work correctly, there was no Google to help solve the problem, and heaven forbid if someone picked up the phone while you were using the modem.”

As technology matured, certain pieces got a lot easier to use and others got more complex, but the puzzles always remained, he said. That eventually led him to pursue a career in information technology.

In 2006, Nelson started at UHV as a Help Desk student worker. During the next decade, he progressed up the ladder and held positions that included online support technician, system support analyst and Help Desk manager before securing his current job in 2018.

Now, as the COVID-19 pandemic has caused UHV and universities nationwide to move to offering virtual classes and employees to work from home, Nelson and UHV Information Technology have met a new set of challenges. But whether facing a normal semester or a pandemic, information technology at UHV is always a team effort, Nelson said.

UHV closed in April to all but essential personnel, and the university’s move to remote work and online learning created a unique set of challenges for everyone.

“Our IT staff continues to support students, staff and faculty during the pandemic,” Nelson said. “It’s just in a very different format.”

When they were no longer able to offer in-person support, the IT staff raced to reprioritize its remote support tools and academic software offerings. A rotating, on-campus crew supported UHV employees in their online transition with technology partners like Microsoft providing additional, critical assistance.

In compliance with social distancing guidelines, Nelson said the IT staff created new, impromptu computer labs for student use along with cloud-based, virtual computer labs for online learners. Rapid video conferencing training also was provided to students and faculty. These extensive efforts have prompted campus administrators to brand IT the “Can-Do Crew.”

Nelson especially was impressed with the Can-Do Crew’s student workers, whose response to the unprecedented pandemic was, “How can we help?”

“That offer to help came from our department’s most junior, temporary workforce,” Nelson said. “How can you not want to rise to the challenge when you see that level of commitment from our students?”

COVID-19 has created other puzzles for Nelson to solve beyond IT, especially as he switched to working from home and dealing with changes to his family’s schedule.

“Prior to COVID-19, my family’s lives had stages or boxes – get the kids to daycare and school, work and then back home,” Nelson said. Right now, by day, I am not just a user services administrator. I am a bad, part-time, substitute first-grade teacher and an early childhood development coordinator for a 3-year-old.”

This is not the first time Nelson has had to eat, work and sleep all in the same location. He served in the Navy for six years and, in his early 20s, spent seven months at sea aboard the USS Enterprise. While there are some similarities between deployment on an aircraft carrier during the era of 9/11 and stay-at-home orders during the era of a pandemic, key differences remain.

“It is now common to be in the middle of a video conference with Microsoft while my 3-year-old is yelling, ‘I need to go potty,’” he said.

If the response to COVID-19 is any indication, Nelson, the rest of the Can-Do Crew in IT and the university at large are ready to face any challenge that comes their way. The driving motivation? An unwavering commitment to the education and support of students.

“Education is everything,” Nelson said. “It teaches us to ask the tougher questions and to not sit idly by when the challenges seem insurmountable. And we do not shy away from challenges at UHV.”

The University of Houston-Victoria, located in the heart of the Coastal Bend region since 1973 in Victoria, Texas, offers courses leading to more than 80 academic programs in the schools of Arts & Sciences; Business Administration; and Education, Health Professions & Human Development. UHV provides face-to-face classes at its Victoria campus, as well as an instructional site in Katy, Texas, and online classes that students can take from anywhere. UHV supports the American Association of State Colleges and Universities Opportunities for All initiative to increase awareness about state colleges and universities and the important role they have in providing a high-quality and accessible education to an increasingly diverse student population, as well as contributing to regional and state economic development.

Victoria Hudgeons, Special to UHV