Fans of the film “The Wizard of Oz” may remember the scene in which Dorothy and her companions discover the man behind the curtain who performs the technical wizardry that makes the “Great and Powerful Oz” come to life. Tony Suttle, an instructional media planner for Academic Outreach in the Office of Continuing Education, is the man behind the curtain who maintains the videoconferencing facilities and equipment that help the UI connect with colleagues around the globe. A long-distance runner, Suttle also is a member of the Second Wind Running Club and the editor of the club’s newsletter.
Tell me about your career at the UI.
I started in this field as an undergraduate student employee in 1978 or 1979. After I graduated from the UI with a degree in ornamental horticulture, they offered me a full-time position. I’ve been in pretty much the same job since then.
I support our distance-education technologies: online courses, videoconferencing. I maintain the videoconferencing equipment for our distance-education classes here, at the Multi-University Center at Oak Brook and at the Illini Center in downtown Chicago.
This semester, we’ve started expanding into some of the UI Extension offices as remote sites. Joliet is the first one.
We provide a technician in the classroom to run the equipment during class so all that the instructors need to do is come in and teach. The technician is also responsible for making sure that the connections stay up. Things work very smoothly 98 percent of the time. It’s that 2 percent that makes it a challenge. Fortunately, the equipment is very reliable. We’re very much like firefighters: If there aren’t any problems, it’s a good night, but we have to be ready.
With some of the technologies we used in the past, we would set up different sites every semester in locations around the state. We’d have to set the equipment up at the beginning of the semester then retrieve it when the semester was over.
We do a lot of international videoconferences – probably six or eight a semester. Those could be meetings, special presentations by faculty members or a content expert in another country, job interviews and Ph.D. defenses where the student or one of their committee members is in another country.
What is the most challenging aspect of what you do?
Trying to keep up with new technologies and dealing with things that you have no control over, such as the network and the weather. Sometimes the weather will prevent the instructors from traveling to a remote location to teach and they’ll need to do an emergency video class that night.
What do you enjoy most?
Working with different people. Every semester brings new challenges and opportunities.
How long have you been a runner?
For about seven years. I belong to Second Wind Running Club and to an informal group called the Buffaloes, who are mainly trail runners, which is what I enjoy the most. It’s more of a social opportunity and the running just happens to bring us together. We run at forest preserves in Pekin, Danville and at Clinton Lake. Three or four times a year, 15 or 20 of us may go to a race out of state. On my vacation in July, I ran a race in Vermont.
How did you do in the race?
I finished it. It was 30 or 31 miles in the mountains. We ran in a river for a mile or two, through a mud bog, and they even threw in a little bushwacking. It was an adventure, let’s put it that way, but it was a lot of fun. It was definitely the most difficult race I’ve ever done.
I run about 25 to 30 miles a week. I’ve taken up mountain biking, too, for cross training. They have a nice set of trails at Kickapoo State Park. I used to ride motorcycles out there when I was a lot younger.
I also have a new grandson, Caden, who is about 4 months old, so that takes up a lot of time. I have one daughter who is a sophomore at the UI and my other daughter graduated with a master’s degree in engineering last December.