Each fall for the past 141 years, a new wave of students arrives on the campus of Franklin & Marshall College. Students fill classrooms and residence halls across the liberal arts college’s Lancaster, Pennsylvania, campus. Vintage architecture and modern buildings stand together amidst the lush greenery. One of the twenty-five oldest colleges in the United States, Franklin & Marshall has seen a lot of growth and change, needing to continuously innovate while sustaining its distinct personality and absolute commitment to its undergraduate teaching mission. No one knows that duality better than Carrie Rampp, the school’s vice president and CIO. “We’ve been around since 1787, and our classrooms, for example, were built for very different instruction than we do today. We need to work with our faculty to understand that transformation,” she says. Rampp works every day to ensure that all of the college’s students, faculty, and staff members have the technology they need to succeed.
Franklin & Marshall’s advanced academic offerings range from bioinformatics to digital art, astrophysics to film studies—and as the years pass, each area of study has its own unique technology requirements. Beyond meeting classroom needs, Rampp and her team want to provide hands-on opportunities with tools that students need to advance their education, the kind of technology that would prepare them for a future in their respective industry. A recent example of that has been a significant investment in 3-D printing capabilities. “Students and faculty members in any discipline now have an easy path to thinking about a 3-D assignment or project,” Rampp explains. “We didn’t make that decision thinking of ourselves as a small private liberal arts college IT department; we see ourselves as the creators of a gateway to a whole range of technologies that give our students opportunity.”
Rampp herself followed a similar trajectory; while working in a university library and studying history in graduate school, she became particularly interested in early web-based technology and its potential for research and communication in an academic setting. She followed that passion in 2000 with her first exclusively technology-based role, manager of web communications for Middlebury College. She and her colleagues were looking for creative ways to solve problems, and technology offered transformative possibilities. After roles in library leadership, technology leadership, or a fusion of the two at several institutions, Rampp joined Franklin & Marshall in 2014.
“Throughout my career, the unifying factor among every colleague has been a deep passion for education . The most exciting part of the job is getting to do work closely tied to the academic mission.”
In this new role, Rampp, her team, colleagues in other offices, and college trustees work to prioritize and address the technology wants and needs of the college. “Each day can run the gamut from small challenges to large topics, strategic work to operational work. It’s exciting,” Rampp says. But in all matters, the team focuses on how technology can facilitate learning, rather than merely on the technology itself. To be successful, they have to keep technology running to ensure staff get paid and the Wi-Fi keeps running, for example. “Throughout my career, the unifying factor among every colleague has been a deep passion for education,” Rampp explains. “There’s a certain amount of time spent understanding, maintaining, and improving infrastructure, but once those things have been done well, the most exciting part of the job is getting to do work closely tied to the academic mission.”
These education innovations have been of great interest to faculty and students. One cutting-edge example of this is a newly built Lightboard Studio; the Lightboard is a suspended pane of glass which, through embedded LED lights and properly aligned cameras, allows users to record videos in which they can hand-draw information and interact with diagrams and notes as if they’re written in air. “The Studio provides our faculty and even our students with a way to create high-quality recorded content for lectures, student projects, and more,” Rampp says. In addition, other classrooms have been updated to make them webinar-capable and flexibly configured to facilitate different teaching styles.
Because they all share that mission for advancing education, technology teams across the education sphere frequently collaborate and share best practices. One of Rampp’s Franklin & Marshall staff members, for example, attended Stanford’s d.school summer design thinking bootcamp with a team of Franklin & Marshall faculty as part of the college’s creativity and innovation initiative, and then cotaught a course on the subject for students. “The focus may not have exclusively been on technology, but it was great to play a significant role in teaching,” she explains. Using the d.school framework, students were challenged to creatively solve real-world problems as part of the course. Projects for the course had students working with modeling tools, 3-D printing, and more. “That feels like transformative work that you want to be doing,” Rampp says.
The team also provides a site license for Lynda.com—a company that offers lectures from experts in subjects like software development, web development, and design—so that students can learn on their own in addition to in the classroom. “We want to remove barriers,” Rampp says. “My department can only be an expert in so many subjects, but we want to provide as many resources as possible.”
All of this hard work has led to increased recognition of Franklin & Marshall as a place for innovation. In fact, the National Science Foundation awarded the college one of its highly sought-after cyberinfrastructure grants to support the buildout of the college’s network to support data-intensive research. “It allowed us to take our campus up to a 10 Gb/s connection and join Internet2,” Rampp explains. Franklin & Marshall can now move large sets of research data at rates on par with even the largest research institutions.
By offering future-focused technology tools, small class sizes and low student-to-faculty ratios with copious undergraduate research opportunities, Rampp emphasizes that Franklin & Marshall excels at providing students every possible opportunity to learn and grow. “The students, the faculty, everyone knows each other. This creates unique opportunities to do some great things together,” she says. “It’s a small community and that creates interesting opportunities. Technology is a part of everything that we do, from decision-making to teaching.”