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Member Feature

Oregon State University’s Mission to Expand Access to Higher Ed

CIO Andrea Ballinger: “High-speed Broadband is the Foundation for Unlocking the Transformative Power of AI for Every Oregonian”

When Oregon State University’s CIO Andrea Ballinger picked up the reins in 2019 as Vice Provost and Chief Information Officer (VP/CIO), she was no stranger to the world of higher education and had already been battle tested in a variety of operational, business and IT leadership roles at national universities,  leading business intelligence and data warehousing projects, performance management programs and other strategic initiatives. Stepping into her role at Oregon’s largest public university, she embraced new challenges. For a self-described change agent and consensus builder, challenges represented opportunities

“We must bring the network pipe to as much of Oregon as we can so the last mile providers can reach every remote Oregonian. And as Oregon’s Research and Education Network, Link Oregon’s role in middle mile infrastructure is strategic to that mission.”

Andrea Ballinger
Andrea Ballinger
Oregon State University CIO

“I inherited well-established processes and strong talent. There was only one glaring gap. We had no shared vision for IT across the university, no connected networks, no university-wide systems-level thinking. We had what I would call a sprinkling of digitization across legacy systems,” Ballinger observed. Transforming that “sprinkling” into a pervasive, institution-wide mindset of digital transformation spanning people, processes, and technologies wasn’t a charter for the faint of heart. A global pandemic was unravelling, upending established learning delivery methods and looking back today, Ballinger is convinced that the charter wasn’t for someone who was just a strong technology leader. “We talk about people, processes and culture transformation all the time as critical anchors of digital transformation but what about funding? Transformation demands investment and for that, higher ed needs CIOs who understand technology, people, business and finance.” 

Last month, the Office of the Provost at OSU hosted a Global Futures Forum on Artificial Intelligence, drawing thought leaders across academia, government and industry on groundbreaking research and policy initiatives in AI across the state of Oregon. For Ballinger, OSU’s status as a land grant university places a heavier responsibility on the institution as AI technologies start becoming more pervasive. “I feel a greater sense of urgency to make higher ed more accessible to every Oregonian, so AI-powered transformation touches every Oregon learner, and nobody is left behind,” she noted. “We now have the technology to personalize the education experience as never before, meet people where they are and give them the choice to decide how they want to learn and engage with our institution.” 

An aerial view of Oregon State Univerisity's Corvalis campus with red brick buildings and many green trees.
Image source: Oregon State University

Improved online access and digital equity programming goals set forth by Oregon’s Higher Education Coordinating Commission aspire to 40 percent of young adult Oregonians completing a four-year degree or more by 2025. This goal has been highlighted in the State of Oregon’s Digital Equity Plan, which also cites lack of pervasive broadband internet availability as a critical barrier to digital equity.  

For Ballinger, modernizing digital systems and processes at OSU to support advanced computing and scientific research and drive exceptional student learning outcomes is a strategic imperative. OSU’s status as one of the nation’s land grant universities also brings a heightened responsibility for the institution’s role in advancing digital equity across the state. “AI tools are being democratized rapidly and we are not an elitist institution,” she said. “We can’t leave anyone behind in this once-in-a-lifetime historic opportunity to use federal investments in broadband to unlock the transformative potential of AI for every Oregonian.” 

OSU’s strategic plan, Prosperity Widely Shared, calls for a doubling from 15,000 to 30,000 ecampus students by 2030 – a move that Ballinger believes will extend OSU’s reach into Oregon’s more rural locations. “If you think of it using Maslow’s hierarchy construct, the network is the must-have foundation”, said Ballinger. “We must bring the network pipe to as much of Oregon as we can, so that the last mile providers can reach every remote Oregonian. And as Oregon’s Research and Education Network, Link Oregon’s role in middle mile infrastructure is strategic to that mission.” 

Ballinger is moving fast, because “we need to approach this historic moment with both a sense of urgency and innovation in our approaches.” Disruptive technologies such as AI – and related considerations such as governance and security in university settings—are top of mind for Ballinger, but she’s not losing sight of who sits at the center of such transformative change. “It’s the people. Courageous, human-centric people at every level of higher ed who aren’t afraid to make bold decisions,” Ballinger notes emphatically.