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Meet the team: Joseph Pasquarelli

 July 30, 2020

Delivering IT with the user in mind

Joseph Pasquarelli on his sailboat on Lake Ontario
“Being on a boat with the wind blowing is where I like to be,” says Joseph Pasquarelli, who has been sailing on Lake Ontario since 1985. “I think I’ve stopped at every possible port.”

“Hybrid” is the new buzzword for the way Hajim School students are taught amidst the coronavirus pandemic.

“Hybrid” also describes the way Joseph Pasquarelli and his IT colleagues made the University’s abrupt transition to remote learning possible.

To be sure, the transition required a lot of technological expertise, to ensure everyone could have VPN access, for example. But the transition also required that all that information technology be accompanied with a lot of people skills. Especially in mid-March, when the entire University found itself pivoting to remote learning on extremely short notice.

“This was not a situation that you could just throw technology at, and make it work,” says Pasquarelli, a senior IT officer who works closely with the Hajim School’s senior leadership team.

“It was also about relieving peoples’ anxieties when confronted with having to learn new technologies like Zoom -- in a matter of days -- in order to teach their classes. It involved taking their calls, talking them off the ledge. These are experts in their fields, people accustomed to being in control, who all of a sudden are being told ‘you can no longer do things the way you used to.’

This required “a whole team of people,” he hastens to add. “Just look at what Eric Frederickson (associate vice president of online learning) and Lisa Brown (assistant director of University IT) did to help faculty with remote teaching, to help set up a structure so we could systematically deliver the same message.”

People are key to the equation

Pasquarelli has been managing IT support teams for most of his 43 years with the University—and has always stressed the “people side” of technology.

“It’s not just about writing programs and computing things, but about helping people understand how they can use IT tools – and be comfortable with them,” he says.

Pasquarelli first became interested in computers while growing up on Long Island. His mother told him about using IBM equipment while working for American Express during the 1950s “and it caught my interest.”  His interest was further stoked during high school by one of his teachers.         

He took classes in computer technology at Suffolk Community College--the first in his family to attend college--then moved to Rochester and finished his associate degree at Rochester Institute of Technology.

“I started at RIT thinking I would go down the programming path, become a system administrator and really get into computer science,” Pasquarelli says. “But the thought of being in a room doing nothing but the programming aspect, making machines do what they’re supposed to do, without much interaction with people --that wasn’t for me.”

He joined the University in 1976, working in the Medical Center’s computing facility where he gained experience in computer operations, data entry, and production control. In short order he moved into management. He later put together an IT support team for the Eastman School of Music, and now oversees 23 IT support people serving AS&E. That includes John Strong, Jim Prescott, and Robert Lindholm, who are assigned specifically to the Hajim School.

“They’ve been with the Hajim School for many, many years. They know the school, they know the departments, they know the students,” Pasquarelli says. “And because of them we were able to successfully transition the Hajim School to remote learning this spring.” 

Lessons from the pandemic 

During his tenure at the University, Pasquarelli has witnessed firsthand the remarkable advances in information technologies. When he began, IBM key punch machines were used to enter data for University billing and student records. Now cutting-edge IT and computing tools are ubiquitous, from the Blue Hive computing clusters that enable researchers to extract meaning from huge data sets, to the iPhones that students hold glued to their eyes as they walk between classes.

One of Pasquarelli’s pet projects has been overseeing the technical aspects of live-streaming the College’s annual commencement exercise, a practice that began in 2001 and has since been expanded to include big screens, video walls, carillons, and the showcasing of individual students.

He was especially impressed by the concerted effort – including Event and Classroom Management, individual academic departments, and the AS&E Web Help Team—to create an entirely virtual commencement this spring. “It was very satisfying to see that turn out as positively as it did,” he says.

Stressful as it has been, the transition to remote learning will likely have some lasting impacts on the way people think about education, Pasquarelli believes.

“I think there’s a realization that maybe we don’t have to do everything in person,” he says. “Sometimes you can be as effective teaching a class from your living room as you would at a lectern in Hoyt Hall.”

But he fully understands the eagerness to be “back on our beautiful campus, walking across the Quad, and having a conversation with someone,” he says. Earlier this summer, during a morning walk in his Linden Street neighborhood, Pasquarelli came across a co-worker from University Facilities who he hadn’t seen since the campus closed.

“This was somebody I used to see every day, tending the lawn and the flowers. It was like seeing a long-lost family member.”