Meet AACRAO Board Member Mark McConahay

Mark McConahay, Associate Vice Provost and Registrar at Indiana University, Bloomington, was elected to serve as Vice President for Information Technology back in November 2016. We sat down with Mark to figure out how he got to this point in his career, and we are excited to share his story with you.

How did you get your start in higher education?  

Well, when I was younger I always envisioned myself as a pro baseball player – a shortstop with a good glove and consistent bat.  I had most of the tools, the drive, the work ethic, looked good in uniform and the love of the game. The only thing I was missing was “talent.” The talent wasn’t there. So, instead, I went to school and got my master’s degree in environmental science. As part of my graduate work I was forced to learn FORTRAN, a number-crunching programming language, in order to make some of my groundwater models. To pursue the degree, I made a deal with my lovely wife Kathleen.  She agreed to support me while I was going to school as long as when I finished, I would reciprocate and support her so she could finish her degree. The job I obtained to fulfill my agreement was using my newly acquired programming knowledge in the Office of the Registrar as a programmer, and I never left. I eventually stepped up into the Assistant Registrar role, served for many years as an Associate Registrar for Systems before I moved into my current role.

You have done a lot for AACRAO over the years, notably serving as the Director of the AACRAO Technology Conference for years prior to your Board election. How did you start with AACRAO, and what kept you coming back?

I think the single most important factor for me was my initial exposure to the Big 10 Registrar group (then known as the CIC) as a young Assistant Registrar at Indiana.  My boss at the time and longtime registrar at Indiana, Jerry Pugh, brought me along to one of their meetings.  I was impressed with the group as a whole, their knowledge and professionalism and I found working with them was quite educational and satisfying.  I wanted to be more involved with the same things they were involved in, which included AACRAO, Educause, and CUMREC.  With AACRAO, I have been heavily engaged with the Technology conference as you know. I have also served on the Program Committee of Educause, and I served for a time on the Board of the old CUMREC conference. And, thanks to the opportunities that Jerry Pugh provided, I was able to attend and present at these conferences, got to know my colleagues and learned that I both enjoyed the experience and grew professionally from them. 

How did you come to be the Director of the AACRAO Technology Conference?

So because of my technical history, I was heavily engaged with CUMREC (College and University Machine Records Conference). That meeting brought together all types of professionals involved with supporting, developing and using student information systems.  Thus, the technical and functional folks were in the same location sorting out how to manage and administer technical applications and tools that supported our campuses.  At the time, most of these were homegrown (institutionally developed) applications. However, the rise of ERP’s began in the 90s and their emergence eroded the foundation of CUMREC (the need to attend to the ERP installation of choice on each campus and their associated support structures). CUMREC faded and died in the early 2000s.  So there was a student record functional technical gap for a while, but there was still a need for a venue and for the technical/functional collaboration that went with it persisted.  AACRAO Tech really filled that role.  The Tech conference evolved from merging the needs of the student record technical professional with the fine work being done within the existing SPEEDE conference.  After Dave Stones and Jeff von Munkwitz-Smith lead the conference for the first few years, AACRAO’s former Executive Director Jerry Sullivan tapped me to lead it, since I had so much history in the field, and I happily agreed.

What is the most memorable moment you have had at an AACRAO Meeting?

I don’t quite remember the year - sometime in the late 1980s - but I believe AACRAO had a meeting in Nashville and secured Alex Haley, author of Roots: The Saga of an American Family, as a plenary speaker. I remember the speech so well. He related his story of growing up in the south, describing his home – the yard, the smell of the grass, his grandmother in a rocking chair – so much rich detail. I distinctly remember looking around the room and seeing that he had the rapt attention of everyone in that audience – complete command of the room. You could hear a pin drop during the pauses. He was definitely the best speaker I have ever seen or heard. As if that wasn’t enough, he was able to take these stories, wrap them around seamlessly, and make them germane to the higher education audience in attendance. I’m sure his talk had some stock elements – stories he told in all of his appearances - but he was able to translate it well to higher education. It was just so good.

What are your goals for your tenure on the Board of Directors?

I would really like to see AACRAO become, or make progress towards becoming, an information resource and repository for everyone in the profession. If someone has a question or an issue involving the support of their campus and involving student records, I want the first place they turn to be AACRAO’s website. Right now, I don’t think that is the case, unfortunately. I usually rely upon Educause because I can get good information and I can get it in a customizable way.  I also think there are opportunities to create content and resources similar in manner Educauses’s “Top 10 IT issues."   Creating a little buzz around “Top 10 student records issues” would be a great way to engage members and make new information available and in a bit more digestible manner. It will be nice to be in a position to see something like realized.