Community Profile: Michele L. Norin

Senior Vice President and Chief Information Officer at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey

Michele Norin profile photo
Michele L. Norin

Michele L. Norin is the Senior Vice President and Chief Information Officer at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey. In her role, she is the institutional leader for technology in a highly complex environment.

Michele is also very active with Internet2, having served on the Internet2 Global Summit program committee and executive track for two years.

What motivates you?

It’s just an exciting time to be in IT and an exciting time to be in higher ed, so you get the best of both worlds. You’re in this progressive field that’s always changing, so there’s always something new and cool and fun. Plus, as a CIO, you have this opportunity to have a major impact, to really help people who are doing exciting and important work.

IT has been particularly vital to everyone’s work during the pandemic. How have you kept Rutgers running?

In my five years at Rutgers, we’ve been on a massive modernization campaign. We’ve been progressively upgrading our tools, our institutional systems, our learning management systems, our research computing program—just about everything. We obviously didn’t do that work because we thought a pandemic would send everyone home, but it put us in a much better position to handle the situation.

The other thing that has kept Rutgers running has been the creativity and dedication of the entire IT community at Rutgers. They found ways to support user needs they had never even considered before last winter, and they did so with incredible speed and incredible responsiveness. I have been extremely proud of my team throughout the COVID crisis.

Describe a current or recent project. How is it impactful to the Internet2 community?

We’re actively working on an initiative called the Eastern Regional Network, which is closely tied to Internet2. It’s very early-stage, but it explores different thinking in terms of network, compute, and storage. Those three things are coupled together to build out the service. And there are a lot of collaborators around it, including a number of Internet2 folks.

Also, we recently got funding to start a massive upgrade of the Rutgers network, which we’re very excited about and which will provide the sort of last-mile connection that’s so important to Internet2.

What has inspired you to be so active in the Internet2 community?

I like staying connected, and I like bringing people together. It’s valuable to hear from others and to hear what’s worked for them and what hasn’t worked. We in IT are on the cutting edge, figuring out how to implement new technologies in real-time, and facilitating conversations that help that process is something I’m glad to do. Internet2 is an important part of our technological portfolio for the institution and contributing to its success as an active member of the community is very gratifying.

Also, I’m not very good at saying no. (Laughs.)

As cloud services mature and we find ourselves relying on them more and more, it’s changing what we do. We’re evolving into a consultative-type role and becoming more service-oriented. And I think that trend—coupled with changing personal expectations about how tools should behave and how we access information—are putting pressure on us as providers to evolve. I know that my expectations as a consumer are different. I expect to get better service and get it faster, and our users also expect that. I think we’ve been grappling with that for a while.

Also, the CIO role has been morphing into more of a partner-oriented role. CIOs need to understand more and more about the goals of the organizations we serve in order to maximize the benefit we provide. You have to be able to build that bridge between the IT space and the higher-ed operation space or the health-science space. You have to understand the core of the organizational mission as much as you have to understand the IT to help decide where you should be adding technological capacity.

One trend I’ve noticed within our space is the discussion around cultural competencies. Even the language has changed in terms of how we think about diversity and inclusion. It is just more visible, more vocal, and there’s a new level of engagement around those topics.

We’ve been having thoughtful and productive discussions, not just in IT, but generally within our communities, about what inclusion really looks like.

What are you proudest of?

When I feel like I’ve been able to help colleagues past or present progress into whatever their next step is, it’s those moments that I’ve always felt the proudest in my professional career.

In my personal life. I am proudest of my kids. I know it’s cliché, but they’re just now moving through college and into their careers, and they’re just good people.

Do you have any lessons learned from your professional experiences you can share with others in the community?

One of the biggest lessons that I’ve learned is not to take yourself too seriously. We have big responsibilities, but in the end, there are so many other things that are more important. Finding that balance of seriousness and flexibility and empathy is important. Some days I just have to say to myself, “Let it go.” It’s hard, but when you let it go, suddenly it opens the door for opportunity.

Also, figuring out how to work with people. Most people really want to feel valued and want to be excited about what they’re doing. They want to feel like they’re part of something bigger than themselves and that what they’re doing is valuable. It doesn’t take a lot to reinforce that. It can just be the smallest recognition or a thank you or an opportunity for people. It might not feel big to me, but, man, for the other person it’s huge.

What are your passions outside of the lab or office?

I’m boring. (Laughs.) I like to read. We like to travel. We’ve been all over the place as campers and RVers. Now that our kids are pretty much grown, we like to see new places.

Which historical figure do you admire most and why?

I have so much admiration for Barack Obama. I’ve had some opportunities to see him up close, and he’s just so inspiring. He brought diversity to the office, and he had to overcome a lot to get there, and he came into it with graciousness and professionalism and integrity, and that’s a pretty high bar.