One day after Brett Coryell’s March 30 retirement from NIU, where he has led the Division of Information Technology for four years, he will embark on his next challenge.
It doesn’t involve computers – or even an office.
The university’s first-ever Chief Information Officer and vice president for Information Technology will arrive March 31 in Georgia to begin hiking the Appalachian National Scenic Trail.
Stretching from Springer Mountain, Ga., to Mount Katahdin, Maine, the 2,200-mile path typically requires five months to conquer. Those who don’t step off by April 1 are likely to encounter the brutal cold of a New England winter taunting them near the journey’s end.
Coryell says he’s ready.
“Hiking the Appalachian Trail is something I’ve had in mind for about 20 years, and that’s what I’m going to do,” he says.
“A year ago, I took a week’s vacation and did a little hiking in the Georgia section, and now I’ve changed up some of my hiking gear,” he adds. “The No. 1 thing is that I’ve been losing weight. In the last month, I’ve lost about 20 pounds. Probably the biggest thing you can do to prevent injury is to carry less – carry less on your body and less in your backpack.”
Belt-tightening is something Coryell has become familiar with at NIU since his arrival in March of 2014.
DOIT’s latest budget calls for $23.6 million, which is not only sharply down from the typical $31 million allocation of late but also reflects about $9 million in costs absorbed from other IT units on campus.
“My time at NIU is probably characterized most by the financial difficulties the university went through in the last four years,” Coryell says. “But I feel like I’ve wrapped up my work here at NIU: Budget-wise, we’re back in a place where we’re whole financially.”
Part of those savings come, of course, from printing. Around 1,400 printers were removed to shift NIU to Anywhere Printing.
“No discussion of my time here would be complete without talking about printers. It was certainly a big deal among the employees – and I will own it,” he says. “Nobody wanted to do that printer project. DOIT didn’t want to be the one taking printers off of people’s desks, but it really came to down to this: The university needed money, and we had many more printers than we needed.”
Recent figures reveal that printing has tumbled by 40 percent to 45 percent, he says, with 8 million fewer pages printed. “That’s a savings of $1.05 million,” Coryell says.
Further accomplishments include implementing “good project management discipline” throughout DOIT as well as protecting NIU’s computers from outside forces through changing IP addresses, adding firewalls, checking vendors and following federal guidelines.
“When I arrived here, all of our computers were on the public Internet. There was no real border defense between the wild, open Internet and our computers on campus,” says Coryell, who came to NIU after working in IT management roles at Emory and Purdue universities. “That’s changed over the last four years.”
He will miss his colleagues. “Everyone told me when I came here that what made NIU special was the people,” Coryell says.
“I’ve appreciated the willingness and dedication of people to try something new, and to work with me,” he adds. “We did a lot of hard things together, and anytime you can do a hard job well together, that’s a lot of fun. That’s something you can be proud of.”
“Brett served the university at a challenging time, made many difficult decisions, and shepherded them through to fruition toward the critical goals of strengthen our IT infrastructure and conserving university resources,” Acting NIU President Lisa Freeman says. “His impact will long-lasting, and we wish him well in his future endeavors.”
The university will announce a succession plan at a later date.