The Quilt celebrates 20 years with Virtual Fall Member Meeting

The Quilt, a consortium of regional Research and Education (R&E) Networks throughout the United States, celebrated its 20th anniversary by hosting it’s first-ever virtual Fall Member Meeting on Sept. 30 and Oct. 1.

Nearly 175 registered attendees and stakeholders gathered online to collectively advance networking for research and education throughout the United States. The integration of Zoom and Slack created a true interactive experience. It’s something The Quilt President and CEO Jen Leasure said was a pleasant surprise.

“We always look forward to our in-person Quilt community gatherings,” commented Leasure. “But this year’s Fall Member Meeting was unique. One benefit of using this virtual format is the number of additional Quilt member staff who are not typically able to attend our in-person events were able to join this virtual event – new participants in our Quilt community is a benefit to all! I’m pleased that these new individuals got to see and learn what The Quilt is all about and to have the opportunity to be exposed to many exciting conversations, make new connections, and grow their professional networks.”

The program included several plenary sessions particularly relevant to the research and education networking community and our roles in addressing the challenges of the pandemic.

Six IT executives from a diverse set of our country’s higher education campuses connected to Quilt member networks conducted an insightful panel discussion on their academic technology plans, priorities, challenges, and implementations to prepare for a fall semester like no other. Key takeaways included insights into how these institutions tailored technology plans to their student populations and how campuses leveraged existing business continuity plans to address new challenges. After this panel, meeting participants came away with a greater appreciation for the innovative leadership of these individuals and their campuses to provide academic continuity as well as support for the health and well-being of their students, faculty and staff. The panelists included: John P. Barden, Chief Information Officer, Yale University; Ryan Blastick, Assistant Vice President for Shared Services, Ivy Tech Community College; Damian Clarke, Chief Information officer, Alabama A&M University; Diane Dagefoerde, Deputy Chief Information Officer, The Ohio State University; Sandra K. Warner, Executive Director of Business Continuity & Risk Management, Johnson County Community College in Kansas; and Cas D’Angelo, Associate Vice President of IT and Chief Operating Officer at the Georgia Institute of Technology. He is also the current chair of The Quilt Board of Directors and President of Southern Crossroads (SoX).

Jon Sallet, Senior Fellow, and Jordan Arnold, Research Assistant, from the Benton Institute for Broadband and Society presented on Broadband for America Now: Open Access Middle Mile Networks and Competition. In October 2019, the Benton Institute issued Broadband for America’s Future: A Vision for the 2020s. At the time of the report, we did not know how dramatically the world would change because of the pandemic. The use of broadband now is even greater, including for work, learning, health care, government services, and democracy. Affordable, high-performance broadband to homes is more important than ever. Sallet’s presentation stressed the importance of middle-mile networks, such as R&E networks, in expanding broadband access and the role that the federal government can take to help accelerate the extension of these networks into unserved and underserved areas.

Kevin Thompson, Program Manager for the National Science Foundation, shared a report on the latest grants from the NSF’s campus cyberinfrastructure program.  Mr. Thompson shared data on the number of grants awarded as well as the impact of these grants on advancing university campus scientific discovery. The NSF’s campus cyberinfrastructure program is a vital resource for the R&E networking community. Quilt member organizations play an important role in both leading grants as well as supporting member institutions in their program participation.

The IT Disaster Resource Center (ITDRC) is a volunteer driven, nonprofit that provides emergency communications and technology resources to help communities continue operations and transition to recovery after a disaster. ITDRC shares a common goal with Quilt members to connect learners to the internet as part of our education missions.  Joe Hillis, executive director of ITDRC, presented on ITDRC and its valuable collaborations with Quilt member organizations to address urgent community broadband needs during the pandemic.

And, there were numerous breakout sessions focused on budget planning, cybersecurity, cloud access, eSports and more, just to name a few. Pre-meeting sessions featured a presentation by NOAA on N-Wave and Regional Partners and best practices in hosting a virtual conference.

Another part of the online interactive experience allowed for a bit fun. Throughout the two-day event, attendees were able to participate in The Quilt Games intended to incorporate a personal aspect into the meeting. Added Leasure, “the virtual environment gave us a chance to connect with our community in different ways this year and we took full advantage of it.”

The Quilt is the national coalition of non-profit U.S. regional research and education networks representing 40 networks across the country. Members of The Quilt provide advanced network services and applications to over 900 universities and tens of thousands of other educational and community anchor institutions. Together, we promote consistent, reliable, inter-operable and efficient advanced networking services that extend to the broadest possible community and represent common interests in the development and delivery of advanced cyberinfrastructure that enables innovation through our education and research mission.

The next member meeting for The Quilt is scheduled for early February 2021.