Mason’s Own Geek Squad Answers the Calls in the Halls

Posted: September 8, 2008 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: August 22, 2012 at 10:11 am

ResTechs get their assignments
Mason’s resident technicians, or ResTechs, are specially trained computer specialists who live in the student residential complexes. Above, they prepare to help new students on move-in day.

By Colleen Kearney Rich

Move-in day was clear and bright. The Catholic Campus Ministry was serving lemonade while the fraternities and sororities helped new students move into Presidents Park, the freshman residential enclave. Inside the Eisenhower Commons area, a regiment of technicians dressed in turquoise T-shirts prepared for the onslaught of technically frustrated students, some with their parents in tow.

“It is going to be a long day,” someone was overheard saying. But after three days of intensive training, these folks were ready. Get Wired, a service sponsored by Mason’s Information Technology Unit (ITU) and the Office of Housing and Residence Life, was about to begin.

Resident technicians, or ResTechs, are specially trained computer specialists who actually live in the residential complexes in which they serve. This year there are 24 ResTechs, and for the first time the group is providing coverage to upperclassmen in the university townhouses.

The ResTechs work evenings from 5 to 11 p.m., Sunday through Thursday, while classes are in session, and they actually come to the students’ rooms to help with computer problems.

Getting Connected

For the first three days of move-in, all of the ResTechs report for duty and take shifts covering certain floors in specific buildings, staggered to follow move-in times.

“These floors moved in this morning, so we are going to start there, seeing who needs help,” Teresa Magill tells the assembled group as she passes out the day’s schedule.

ResTechs prepare to visit rooms
Teresa Magill gives Mason’s resident technicians instructions before they fan out to the residence halls.

Magill, manager of the ITU Support Center, oversees the hiring, training and supervision of the ResTechs. The group gets educated on technical troubleshooting and the computer systems at Mason, and they also get customer service training, including role playing, provided by Human Resources staff.

Each tech has a walkie-talkie, a photo ID identifying them as ITU personnel and a flash drive loaded with a basic computer tool kit. Some techs also have a computer mouse hanging from their neck like a stethoscope.

“The tool kit basically gives you everything you would need to get a computer set up for Internet access,” says Stephanie Klare, a parks and recreation major who is the lead ResTech in Presidents Park. “If they are having problems with their computer, most likely they aren’t going to be able to connect to the network, so it is easier if you just have everything with you.”

This is Klare’s third year as a ResTech and her fourth year living with freshmen in Presidents Park.

ResTechs working in a dorm room
One ResTech works on a laptop while another checks connections.

While the ResTechs’ majors vary widely, from English to the expected computer science, the techs share a common interest in the technical side of computers. Several can trace their interest back to middle school, and many, like Klare, consider tinkering with computers a hobby.

Educating the Computer User

“Move-in is an experience in and of itself,” says Ben Brown, a computer science major starting his second year as a ResTech, his first year as a lead. Brown has a less experienced tech go with him on calls the first day.

The Get Wired initiative helps the ResTechs quickly connect with Mason’s newest residents. During move-in, the techs walk through the floors of the complex and offer assistance. The new students and their parents are appreciative.

“We do see some really weird things,” says information technology major Bobby Hundemer of his ResTech work. Hundemer and Brown agree that the most common problem they encounter is people forcing an Ethernet cable into the wrong wall jack. Unfortunately, this is not a problem ResTechs can solve; they have to get a technician to fix or replace the jack.

“I usually recommend people get a hub if there aren’t enough jacks in the room,” Hundemer says.

Serving as a ResTech isn’t without its awkward moments. All of the techs agree that these moments frequently occur when a parent or significant other has first attempted to resolve the computer problem without success.

And of course, once people get to know you, and where you live, it isn’t unusual to get those after-hours calls.

“We do get after-hours calls quite a bit,” says Brown, who covers the townhouses and student apartments. “Our hours are from 5 to 11 p.m., so our off hours are really the rest of the day. There have been ResTechs who have had people knock on their door at 2 a.m., but it isn’t a common occurrence.”

ResTech helps a student
ResTech Paul Eldridge explains the dangers of viruses and spyware to a freshman.

And then there are viruses to contend with. When global affairs major Paul Eldridge starts talking about computer viruses and spyware, he begins to sound a little like one of those public service announcements: Don’t Let This Happen to You. But he couldn’t be more serious.

“Even one infection is bad,” Eldridge tells a student while working on the guy’s laptop. “It is the real stuff, kids.”

After helping students get their laptops set up, he urges them to run weekly scans for spyware and viruses. He tells students, “It will make your life easier — and ours.”

Started during the 2004-05 academic year, the Mason Resident Technician program has expanded each year to support the university’s growing resident population. Last year, the ResTechs responded to almost 800 calls.

“This is a great program that helps to support our residential students with their technology needs,” says Christopher Weathers, interim director of Housing and Residence Life.

He adds, “We are very satisfied with the changes made to locate the ResTechs in the common areas of the halls, so that residents are more aware of their presence.”

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