3 Questions With Higher Ed CIO Vi Bergquist

4 min read
  • Education

Vi Bergquist is the CIO of St. Cloud Technical & Community College in St. Cloud, Minn. Previously, she was a technology coordinator for the Great River Regional Library System, which consists of 32 branch libraries in six counties. She tells us that CIOs in Minnesota higher education often work together on projects, such as a CIO handbook that includes a mentoring program for new CIOs in the system. “It can seem like a pretty huge job when you first start out so it’s good to have someone you can turn to if you have questions,” she says. A proponent of new technology, she can’t wait to try a 3D food printer.

What do you see as the role of social media for a CIO?

Social media can play a valuable role for CIOs. That being said, it appears more CIOs are providing social media to their users than actually using it themselves. According to a 2012 harmon.ie study, only 10% of CIOs are using any form of social media. 

I firmly believe that CIOs not using social media are missing out on a tremendous resource. I have always believed, as the saying goes, that no one is as smart as everyone. Using social media, I can get good ideas from all over the world nearly instantaneously. I am regularly exposed to great thinkers, change makers, subject specialists and disruptors in areas that are vitally important to my work as a CIO. I like the idea of leveraging the thinking of the collective for the greater good. I believe the more access we have to data and information, the more we can improve our workplaces and the world, really. Removing barriers to information and data access can drive progress in all sorts of ways. We all do — or should — use data for decision making to improve overall quality and outcomes. Social media can be used for exactly this purpose.

To play in the social media sandbox fairly, you also must be a contributor as well as an information collector and consumer. When I learn of something I think would help my colleagues or followers, I post that to my social media accounts. The sharing aspect of social media makes it invaluable for making human connections that would have been much harder to make it if were not for social media.

What is the value of social media in higher education in particular?

Having a good sound digital strategy is imperative in today’s education market. We have to meet students where they are, and where they are is online and using social media. If you want to get your message out and be heard, you need a multi-pronged social media strategy.  A really good digital strategy can be a game-changer for a college or university, exposing them to entirely new markets outside their normal geographic boundaries.

On my campus, we created a social media policy and procedure quite early on because we felt that social media would become important, which has proven to be true. We wanted to get a handle on who could create a page, who would hold the credentials for the page, and what kind of material had to be screened by someone before being posted. The system we created with our policy has worked well for us.

In my work as a higher education CIO, I have sought out thought leaders in the field of educational technology and followed them. Were it not for social media, how else could a person so easily collect the wisdom of all of these great thinkers?  It’s a real boon to our field.

What challenges do you face as a woman CIO, and what do we need to do to get more women CIOs?

I remember when I first become CIO at my college, over eight years ago now, and I began attending the Minnesota State College and University System CIO Council meetings with CIOs from the 32 campuses in Minnesota. At the time, there were only two women CIOs in our system. The number of women CIOs in our Minnesota system has now increased to seven, which is great, but it’s a pity we are actually bucking a trend in Minnesota. Wayne Brown recently said data he collected indicated that the number of women CIOs in higher ed has been on a steady decline from 2008-2013. The number has declined by 5%. The reasons for this are varied and to some extent unknown.

I think it’s vitally important to have women CIOs in leadership roles because women approach leadership differently from their male counterparts. These differences serve to make the workplace a far richer experience. The feminine leadership style attributes identified by Carol Edlund and cited in Women and Leadership by Karen Klenke, which both men and women can possess, are well suited for today’s workplace. The feminine operating styles of cooperation, as opposed to competition; the preference for teams in organizational structure, as opposed to a hierarchy; a problem-solving style that combines intuition and rationality; and the feminine preference for a collaborative workplace are all qualities that today’s workplaces need and demand.

I think the best way women CIOs can increase the number of women CIOs is to serve as a role model to other women. We should also mentor women who express an interest in the role of CIO. We should be growing our own female CIOs in our workplaces. I believe, as a general rule of thumb, everyone should always be working on training two replacements for themselves to ensure business continuity in the event of a departure. If at all possible, try to make sure one of them is a woman.

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