Feature Profile: Reed Sheard
As higher education undergoes a shift from the traditional to the technological, institutions must adapt as they look forward at emerging technologies. Here at Westmont, the CATLab is an incubator for imaginative, valuable ideas that inspire technological evolution. Yet the CATLab’s formation was only possible due to Westmont CIO Reed Sheard.
Reed’s presence at Westmont is fresh, inventive, and steadying—as of 2015, Westmont finished more than twenty projects based in the cloud under his leadership, without increasing staff or budget1. Reed is an informed risk-taker, and thus far for Westmont, his risk-taking has yielded fruitful results that have saved the college resources and money. In his book The Shaping of an Effective Leader: Eight Principles of Formative Leadership, Westmont President Dr. Gayle Beebe wrote that Reed "has done a masterful job of making our technology resources state-of-the-art while accepting the advancement responsibilities accompanying a major capital campaign"2. Reed’s leadership is visionary and invested, and combined with his own continuous, lifelong learning—in 2015, Reed was named by IDG as among the top 100 CIOs nationwide, and he has written for Forbes and other platforms and published articles in prolific journals.
President Beebe also writes that "Reed is the kind of person I can give almost any assignment to and he will invest the time and tenacity to figure out how to make it work so that we can be successful”2. In 2010, Reed took Westmont's failing, out-of-date IT department and implemented cloud-based solutions that the college still uses today. Were it not for Reed’s expertise and guidance, information technology at Westmont would perhaps still be swamped in expensive, obsolete tech with more drawbacks than benefits. Yet even beyond the new system’s tangible time and resource savings, Reed believes that making the switch to cloud computing creates “an environment that encouraged different types of innovative solutions”3. Instead of spending all of its brain power on merely keeping the system afloat, Westmont’s IT department is now able to think of new tasks as opportunities rather than challenges.
WATCH: Westmont CIO Reed Sheard discusses higher ed, technology, and why he's excited about the CATLab.
One of these opportunities is the CATLab. To Reed, Westmont's “best and brightest” includes our students, who are too often underestimated. Regarding 2018’s pilot CATLab team, the biggest “lightning in a bottle” point for Reed was when he saw what the students demonstrated at the Enabling Impact conference, and realized how much he undervalued students’ capabilities. He calls that storm in a teacup epiphany “one of the top five moments of my twenty-some-year career in higher ed”4. Though sometimes Reed’s imagination diverged from the reality of what students produced, the divergence was a good divergence. Students thought creatively in a way that no one else could, and produced results beyond his expectations. In an interview by the CATLab creative team, Reed said that "The CATLab provides our students with a laboratory to try ideas that we think could be really important for Westmont College.” So far, having students implement those important ideas has been wildly successful, and the positive results of this summer and the last portend future growth.
What’s the secret to this success? To Reed, it’s effective, informed teamwork. He brought up the example of working in a team of three that accomplishes the work of six versus a team of six that accomplishes the work of three. The difference between those two teams, he said, is “a really clear understanding of where we’re headed—the logic of the objective—particularly for something that’s new and transformative.” If everyone is on the same page, and understands why the team is on that page, teams work efficiently and accomplish tasks well. Whether for a student team or a team of professionals, practicing knowledgeable collaboration allows creativity to thrive unhindered. One develops a sense of knowing one is "doing the right thing in the moment” without worrying about where the rest of the team is at.
As Reed has watched the CARLab germinate, he says that students have “proven themselves” to be capable of facing the unknown and coming out the other side with understanding that “they apply in ways that matter”—to the college, to the administration, and to themselves. In a certain sense, the CATLab is the realization of what Reed set out to accomplish when he first revolutionized information technology at Westmont. The CATLab is a space for the institution to experiment with new and exciting ideas; Reed calls it "an incredibly important part of learning.” Employing bright, creative students at the CATLab allows the college to "pick projects that hold transformational capability for the institution.”
Speaking at Westmont’s Chapel in 2011, Reed said he was grateful for “the wonderful privilege of...ensuring that technology is being leveraged in ways that extend the reach and influence of Westmont. It’s a great job!”5. Eight years later in 2019, Reed still believes he has “absolutely the best job”—and his passion for technological innovation; holistic, creative problem solving; and above all, the people whose lives Westmont touch, reflects that belief.
Interested in hearing more about how Westmont is making tech waves in higher ed? Follow the CATLab on social media here:
1 Craig, Scott. “Westmont CIO Reed Sheard Wins Prestigious IT Award.” Noozhawk, 2015.
2 Beebe, Gayle. The Shaping of an Effective Leader: Eight Formative Principles of Leadership. InterVarsity Press, 2011.
3 Sheard, R. (2010). Innovating in the Cloud: Exploring Cloud Computing to Solve IT Challenges. Educause Quarterly, 33(2).
4 Sheard, Reed. Interview, 2019.
5 Sheard, Reed. Westmont Chapel, 2011.