IT proposes email changes

If there is one aspect of St. Olaf life that links each and every member of the community, it is email. Though a comparatively new phenomenon in relation to the school’s long life, email has quickly become a primary means of communication among students, staff, faculty and administrators. Though St. Olaf email provides a quick, convenient way to communicate, it is not without its challenges.

In an attempt to combat security issues that arise out of providing students with recycled email addresses, St. Olaf College Information Technology IT is planning changes to be implemented beginning in the spring of 2014. Beginning with the class of 2018, incoming St. Olaf students, faculty and staff will be assigned email addresses differently.

The current standard policy for assigning email addresses has led to some confusion, with current students sometimes receiving correspondence intended for the alumni who were previously assigned the same address. Jordan Hiller ’14, for instance, often receives LinkedIn requests intended for the person who previously had his email address.

“I also continue to receive advertisements for stuff like tanning that are targeted to [the previous user],” Hiller added.

The IT department’s proposal, if implemented, will not affect current students, faculty and staff, or the incoming first-year class, as they have already been assigned their email addresses. Rather, the new system will be implemented beginning with transfer students enrolling in the spring of 2014. These transfer students, the classes of 2018 and beyond, new faculty and new staff will be assigned email addresses composed of a certain number of letters from their last name and a randomly generated number.

Before the proposal is implemented, it must be approved by the Student Technology Advising Committee STAC. STAC, formed at the beginning of this academic year, is comprised of one student from each class. The group’s goal is to provide feedback on the use of technology on campus, as well as offer suggestions about how to make technology more accessible and efficient. On Friday, May 3, STAC and IT will discuss the benefits of the proposal, as well as address any drawbacks.

Director of Information Systems Craig Rice and Director of IT and Libraries Roberta Lembke are the driving force behind this proposal. They began to see the need for a change when they first heard of people receiving emails intended for others.

Eileen King ’13 and Emily King ’13 have similar email addresses, which became problematic when both students applied for the same job.

“I got two emails about shadowing that I nearly didn’t realize were for her and not me,” Eileen King said. “Fortunately, I figured it out in time, and the crisis was averted, but it was a close call.”

Shelley Silkey, a custodian at St. Olaf, recalled a time when her nephew was a student and her daughter a visiting professor. She regularly received emails with student papers attached, as well as requests from professors or coaches that students be excused from class.

“I emailed them back saying it was fine by me, but maybe they might want to check with professor Silkey, rather than her mother or cousin,” Silkey said.

“In a school with such a strong Norwegian heritage, unique emails would be easier,” Lembke said. The only problem with the new proposal that Lembke and Rice foresee is that unique combinations of letters and numbers will make it more difficult for community members to identify each other by email address. Instead, they may have to use the online directory to find the correct contact information.

Though the proposed new system may make it more difficult to simply guess a person’s email address, Rice and Lembke are confident that it will provide members of the St. Olaf community with increased accuracy, confidentiality and security in their communication.

– Kassandra DiPietro and Ashley Belisle

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