The Perfect Storm

At some of the past schools I’ve worked at, I’ve had the opportunity to become involved in some of the technological initiatives.  From assisting with organizing budgets, to adapting ID readers, to tracking attendance at programs… I’ve hopefully helped some of the day to day tasks  become a little bit easier for fellow colleagues.

Some have been very easy and very smooth.  A few growing pains here and there as staff get adjusted to new steps and new concepts… but for the most part, these implementations have gone well.

Recently here at RPI, we brought on some new housing software to assist with data management, application implementation, and room selection.  Basically this thing takes about 90% of our paper processes in Residence Life and puts them on a computer.

But to clearly set the tone of this blog, we need to do something first.

Let us open our “Jeff Spain Moments” history book to this little nugget at Quincy University…


July 18, 2012- Smack dab in the middle of First Year Housing selection:

Since late June I had been telling a student who picked Room 128 that they absolutely, positively picked a room that exists on the 1st floor in between Room 126 and 130.

Student calls early July…

Student: So I looked on the floor plan and it says that 128 is a stairwell.
Me: Whoa!  Really?  A stairwell?  Nah… must be a misprint.

Student calls the following week around July 10th….

Student: Hi.  Me again.  I, um, went on an Admissions tour to see the room and well, I couldn’t find it.
Me: No, no.  I’m telling you it’s there.  Trust me!

I call the student July 18, 2012:

Me: So…. Hi….  I assigned you to a stairwell and now I need to move you.
Student: Hahahaha.  Mom!  Guess what…. (voice trails off)


Thankfully, and with the help of a few people, that seemed to be the only gaffe.


The “P” in RPI stands for Polytechnic.  Most students coming here will be exposed to that “technic” part of the campus.

Uber-technical students + Jeff Spain Moments = The Perfect Storm

Honestly and thankfully, there were really only two thanks to the help of some great colleagues and friends who I worked with on this project.

Gus, My Pet Panther

To test out some of the features of the software, we created some test accounts under our own names.  The application allows students to input their personal information, answer some questions about themselves (How late do you stay up?  Do you study a lot?) and then it gives them some space to write a personal statement about themselves.

The folks testing the system were a small group of colleagues and trusted students.  Each seemed to do pretty well and during a review session, my profile personal statement popped up on-screen.  It read:

I’m a great roommate to live with.  I keep the place clean and tidy but I have to let you know about something that is a non-negotiable issue.  I have a pet panther named Gus.  Gus has been with me since childhood and is always by my side.  For the most part, Gus is a friendly cat but you can’t make too many sudden movements.  I didn’t get him de-clawed because that’s just mean to do to a panther.  Plus, the vet says Gus is “challenging to work with.”  Meh.  Oh!  One more thing.  At night, I’d really recommend sleeping as still as possible.  It’s common sense to not mess with a panther in the nighttime. 

Our testing continued to go well and we shifted into implementation and rolling it out to students.

Fast forward a few weeks where we are fully functional and students are searching through profiles to find a possible roommate.  A colleague arrives in the office one day says with a laugh that a graduated student who was a testing user is getting requests to be his roommate.  He was getting such a kick out of….

I throw my hand against my forehead as she tries to finish her sentence.

Did we….?

Is it…?

If his profile is still up there then….?

It can’t still be….?

I strolled nervously over to my computer.  Looked for my name.  And just clicked delete.

I don’t know if anyone else found out about Gus.  We never received any comments.  No reddit posts.  Nothing in the forums.  Maybe it never went public?  Part of me wants to go up to a random student and ask, “Does Gus mean anything to you?”

There’s A Bed Bug Problem?

The application has about 10 different screens/steps.  Each step is labeled at the top so that the student knows what part of the application they’re on.  Some steps are only available to certain students at certain times.

Part of our Room Selection Process allows students to retain the space that they’re currently living in for the following year.

With me so far?

When one of the steps opened, we ran into an unforeseen bug.

The step in the application was titled, “Renew Current Bed”.

So I fixed the bug.

Excited that I had fixed it, I drew up a quick email to send to students.  It read:


From: Jeff Spain
Subject: Renew Current Bed Bug Fix

Dear Student,
We recently discovered that many of you encountered an issue when you tried to renew your space…


Translated to what was going through my brain at the time:


From: Jeff Spain, Dean of Awesomeness because huzzah, I just fixed a major glitch in the system!
Subject: You’re probably not going to read this subject anyway because, who really reads the subject line?

Dear Student,
Fixed!  I fixed it!  Whoo hoo!  I heard y’all were having some problems with the app and I fixed it!  Bring me the finest food in all the land!  I have to tell you this as quickly as possible!


So to 700 students the email was sent out with information about how the issue was fixed and they were free to log back in and confirm their housing.

Looking back on my emails, it took all of 7 minutes for me to receive the following:


From: Student
Subject: Bed Bugs?

I didn’t know we had a problem with bed bugs?  When did this happen?


That’ll teach me to not respect the Subject line.  I can’t even blame them.  Sure the text of the email made no reference to Bed Bugs but, when the first thing you see in an email is in reference to creepy crawly little creatures that harass you in your sleep, I can’t blame them for their first reaction being, “Whaaaaa?”

I never sent out a correction email.  Knowing my luck that night, I would have just made the problem worse.


So, now, reflecting back on the process, it went fairly well.  Sure a few bumps… wait… shouldn’t use that word.  Sure a few hiccups, but all in all, I think it was a success.  We’ll do some student feedback sessions.  Pray that the first year application process goes without me assigning someone to a bathroom.  But with some great colleagues and friends, we’ll keep trucking on with this exciting, unpredictable system.

Thanks for reading…


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