Every college in America should have a chief information officer like Richie Crim. In fact, every organization in America should have a CIO like Richie Crim. Endowed with an innate desire to provide capable assistance wherever it’s needed, Crim finds his days filled with tasks that are as likely to find him changing the batteries in the mouse of a faculty member, perplexed by the disappearance of the cursor on her monitor, as they are to have him making the major decisions that affect the delivery of technology campuswide.
For instance, Crim recently found himself working overtime with a construction crew charged with building a set featuring a nine-door hotel room for the campus theater group. As CIO at Lord Fairfax Community College in Virginia, Crim explained that “my role here is not defined by my job. I can do other things besides what some people might see as the ‘crucial’ stuff, and that philosophy runs across our organization.”
The project that has become, in many ways, one of Crim’s hallmark achievements is a product of that desire to serve his constituency in any way necessary. He calls it the Open-Source Classroom. “I started with just a few apps that I use personally to help me with my workday, things I’d discovered that were helping me better my own experiences at my desk," he said.
When approached by campus staff or faculty and asked for advice on how to address one challenge or another, Crim didn’t hesitate to share the apps with which he was having great personal success.
“Budgets aren’t what they used to be,” Crim pointed out, “A lot of the tools I researched and used were free, because we can't spend a lot of money on some things that we might have afforded in the past.”
Over time, Crim found himself with a compilation of free apps that were just as effective as their costly counterparts. These circumstances led Crim to share some of the apps on his list with faculty members, who, in turn, began to use them with their students in the classroom. Word of Crim’s list got around, and he found himself frequently being approached by students, faculty and other staff members seeking his recommendation on apps that would accomplish a spectrum of tasks.
Crim’s experiences with staff and others who had come to him for help, then reported back with their successes, is as colorful and varied as one might imagine. He once recommended a data retrieval tool to salvage video from a camera that had been mounted in the woods by an acquaintance seeking to monitor wild game near their home. The camera had been mysteriously ripped from its mount and crushed. “I gave them a tool that does a really good job at pulling data off something like that,” Crim recalled, “and, when they took a look at the video, they discovered that their camera had been destroyed by a local neighbor who was caught by the camera cheating on his wife in the woods.”
Tools from Crim’s list have been used to help an attorney with crucial evidence in a trial, to salvage photos of a deceased husband from a mangled flash drive by his bereaved wife, and, of course, to help students at his college with myriad classroom applications. “My list became so large — I’m up to about 101 apps — and so popular, that I decided to do a presentation on it at a convention a few years ago, and I got glowing feedback and was asked back the next year. So I started submitting for different conferences, and I found people following me to every session I would do, like groupies!”
For a guy like Richie Crim, knowing that he has somehow been of service to so many people through his Open-Source Classroom, imparts a great sense of gratification. It’s an accurate reflection of the personal philosophy that he has developed over the course of his career. “I've been in this business for a while now, and I’ve seen other leaders in IT who follow a different path, so to speak. I walk into a room with a bunch of guys, and they're all wearing shirts and ties and suits, and they sit at their desks all day. And that frustrates me, really. I believe that you have to be in the trenches with IT to know what's going on. You have to connect to your customer.”