Adam Wlad is a recipient of the annual Staff International Experience Fund (SIEF). The award allows staff members to travel and engage in collaborative work with international partners and institutions.

As an information systems specialist for Information Systems & Technology’s Enterprise Resource Planning group, Adam supports Quest, the University core student information system. His overarching interests lie in shared themes within the Higher Education User Group (HEUG). The HEUG is an international and non-profit organization consisting of public sector and higher education institutions using Oracle application software. 

In October 2017, he visited the University of Glasgow in Scotland and the University of Derby in England.  During his time abroad, he had the opportunity to further his knowledge of the student system software these schools have in common with the University of Waterloo. 

What was the purpose of your trip and why did you choose Scotland and England?

I wanted to connect with partner institutions that use Campus Solutions, a student information system (SIS) package used by more than 800 higher education institutions globally.

The United Kingdom and European Union are ahead of Canada in privacy protection, so travelling to Scotland and England were obvious choices when thinking about the student data privacy. I was also interested in learning about the role of social media in communicating with students and faculty and how these end-users perceive the usability of their institutions’ student system, and gain an understanding of how these institutions have structured their support teams and how system upgrades are planned and executed.

By learning how some of the United Kingdom’s top schools manage their SISs, I knew I could return to Waterloo with new ideas and a more thorough knowledge of these tools while also sharing Waterloo’s own ideas and practices. This was also an excellent opportunity for me to be an ambassador for the University, which I have not previously done in my role.

How did the SIEF award provide professional development related to your role at Waterloo?

The award assisted me with the upgrade we are performing to Waterloo’s Campus Solutions implementation. The upgrade at the University of Derby was complete by the time I travelled there, which allowed me to understand the challenges they faced and how they resolved the issues they encountered.

When I visited the University of Glasgow, the institution was in the middle of their upgrade, which was also a great professional opportunity. Being there while the upgrading was happening also allowed me to help them solve some of the challenges they experienced.

At the University of Glasgow, I had the opportunity to meet with Jane Broad, the director of Student Lifestyle Support & Development. She is also the president of the HEUG. While at Derby, I meet with Paul Matthews, Senior Systems Engineer, and member of the Technical Advisory Group (TAG) of the HEUG. Jane and Paul were excellent hosts and their hospitality made for unforgettable experience.

What surprised you most about your experience in the U.K., both professionally and personally?

Professionally, I was most surprised by how similar the institutions are regarding drivers and the issues they experience with their systems. The issues we face in Information Systems & Technology – in relation to changing economic and education needs – are global issues, which hadn’t really occurred to me before I was given the opportunity to travel and meet with my colleagues in other countries.

Personally, I was also really surprised by how pedestrianized the streets are in these cities. It’s incredibly easy to get around on foot, which was great. I also have a great appreciation for theatre, so on my own time, I visited Stratford-upon-Avon, the birthplace of William Shakespeare.

What was the greatest lesson you learned in the U.K.?

The greatest lesson I learned is that they have much more mature and comprehensive legislation for information privacy and protection. Their legislation places greater constraints on how information systems are managed and what can be done with the data and related metadata associated with such systems. Such legislation also requires educational institutions to provide more explicit definitions of the purposes associated with data collection, usage, and who has access to such data.

I also learned that it’s completely okay to be lost. I’ve never done anything like the SIEF before, and the majority of the things that were booked were done the week before I left which was a little nerve racking. You can do your best to prepare and organize meetings, but sometimes you have to figure things out in the moment.

What do you want other people to know about the SIEF award?

If you have an idea, it can be actualized. When I was doing research on the award, I noticed that previous candidates have largely been in senior positions at the University, so I had a sense that because I wasn’t a manager or a director that I wouldn’t be awarded. Fortunately, isn’t wasn’t the case. It can happen if you take the chance and focus on the benefits of what you can offer by being an ambassador for the University and what ideas you can bring home with you. Upon my return, I had the opportunity to present what I had learned during my time abroad to my colleagues here at Waterloo, which also gave them the opportunity to better understand the student system software we use.

The experience allowed me to improve my ability to articulate who I am, my needs, and what I can offer partner institutions. My communication skills improved immensely and I feel more confident as a result of the award. It’s sparked my passion for travelling more; I’m now planning on going to Australia in 2020 for a few months!