Stories of Connected North – Michelle Williams: Inspiring a New Generation
Michelle Williams is a Virtual Systems Engineer (VSE) and has been with Cisco for 2 years. She started in the Cisco Sales Associate Program (CSAP) before moving into the VSE role with a focus on Cisco’s collaboration solutions. Her collaboration focus aligned with the technology used in the Connected North program.
SS: Why did you get involved with the Connected North Program?
MW: I got involved with Connected North through a colleague, Justin Chin-You, as a mentoring and a learning experience. I’ve had the opportunity to go to Iqaluit and Cape Dorset to install video conferencing units, and I also help in the background with miscellaneous tasks. Bills of materials, technical designs and questions, user guides, that kind of thing.
SS: What are some of the challenges you face when you are in these remote communities?
MW: There is the challenge of taking so much equipment with you and lugging it between airports and schools and not needing to use almost any of it. Or you end up using a tool you’ve never had to use before, for me, that was a visual fault finder. While I was in Cape Dorset, I had to figure out where to connect the unit by chasing the fiber path through the community. I ended up on Cisco Spark with Justin, all the way in Jamaica at the time, to walk me through what I was doing wrong. And, of course, it ended up being a very simple fix.
What’s really great is that once you get the endpoint set up, we haven’t had a need to have a tech on site as the technology has proven reliable. Thanks to the support of our service provider partners we can remotely manage the unit if required.
The largest challenge happens before an engineer arrives at a school. There is a lot of coordination in the background, that our CSR team does an amazing job taking care of, to get the endpoint and engineer to the school, managing contacts and making sure the right people are available, in addition to handling all of the project management to make everything run as smoothly as possible.
SS: What’s your favourite Connected North memory?
MW: I went to Cape Dorset to do an install of a replacement unit. The high school had burnt down and they lost the video conferencing unit installed the year before. The students were so excited that they were going to have this technology again. The first thing they asked was if they could connect with a fellow student who had moved to Ontario so they could see how she was doing in her new school. It was just a small moment but really made clear to me the actual impact of the program. How much it means to the students to be able to use this technology and have these experiences.
I don’t even think about it if I want to hop on a video call with my parents. And seeing how something that I take for granted, so simple in my everyday life, can have that much meaning or impact to someone else, was heartwarming and has inspired me to want to do more.
SS: What do you think is next for Connected North?
MW: The program is going to continue to grow. Connecting more schools, communities, and students together. Having even more experts participate, offering even more experiences to the students and allowing them to see even more from outside their communities.
From a technology perspective, we are already seeing a little bit of change. Connected North is looking at moving from one conferencing solution to another to provide scalability, growth, and allow more concurrent sessions. I also see Cisco Spark as becoming another option to connect and provide more interactivity in the sessions.
SS: If you could describe Connected North in one word, what word would that be?
MW: Inspiring. I don’t feel like it’s a big enough word. I spent time with a thesaurus and got nowhere. [laughs]