By Alexandra Chrystal. UC Riverside (UCR) is taking significant steps in reshaping its technological landscape, and at the forefront of this transformation is the newly appointed Associate Vice Chancellor and Chief Information Officer, Matthew Gunkel. Bringing a wealth of technical knowledge, a strategic mindset, and a dedication to empowering the university community, Gunkel is poised to steer UCR toward an era of IT innovation and operational excellence.
A Vision for Digital Transformation Through Innovation at Scale
When Gunkel joined UCR in March 2022, he quickly set to work familiarizing himself with UCR and the larger UC system. He and his team embarked on a journey to understand the opportunities and challenges faced by the university’s IT infrastructure, aligning their work with the institution’s 2030 Central Campus Level Strategic Initiatives. As a result, he and his team developed a new Campus IT Strategic Plan built on the values of agility, innovation, integrity, diversity and inclusion, collaboration and resilience.
A vision emerged: “ITS strives to simplify, improve, and leverage technology for the betterment of the staff, student, and faculty experience by providing a robust common platform that can support the unique needs of the academic and research mission in alignment with UCR’s strategic objectives.”
These campus-level strategic initiatives include building financial stability, resilience, and sustainability; investing in the success of the people who teach, research, work, learn, and live at UCR; and expanding the visibility and scope of influence of UCR locally, nationally, and globally. In support of these efforts, Gunkel’s plan focuses on streamlining and maximizing technology to enrich user experience, increase security, and improve effectiveness and efficiency.
Nurturing a Customer-Centric Approach
Importantly, the transformative change ITS is championing transcends technology.
“The people behind the technology are the real drivers of this transformation,” said Gunkel. “Our staff are committed to the success of UCR and they understand that we are driving educational value from a technical perspective.”
In his time leading ITS at UCR, Gunkel has endeavored to inspire cultural change by empowering his team to embrace new ideas, learn new skills, and cultivate meaningful business relationships with customers. ITS aims to have “a seat at every table” to ensure that its staff get to better know customers, understand their varying needs and goals, and collaboratively develop a comprehensive plan that factors in IT infrastructure, tools, and services. According to Gunkel, this best positions his team to present customers with common solutions that are agile, robust, and scalable.
“As ITS, we must always ask ourselves, ‘How can we ultimately take away the technical burden and improve the user experience for students. faculty, and staff?’” said Gunkel. ”This starts with things that may seem small but have significant impact on user experience, such as improving WiFi coverage, simplifying web forms, and removing barriers to access resources.”
Gunkel shared that he is proud of the progress his team has already made in taking a customer-centric approach to their work. “The increased exposure to our customers is already beginning to have a positive impact on our staff, campus partners, and the community at large.”
Elevating Research with Cloud-Scale Capabilities
A significant aspect of UCR’s transformation journey involves the strategic focus on supporting research at cloud scale. On March 9, 2023, ITS announced a three-year collaboration between UCR and Google Public Sector to modernize the university’s enterprise infrastructure and support its research programs.
The Google Cloud Platform’s suite of services offers UCR researchers access to secure workstations, storage, high-performance computing clusters, and AI and machine-learning services. As a result, researchers are able to analyze large datasets within minutes, conduct complex simulations and modeling, and effortlessly scale services and storage. This access to cutting-edge technology not only enhances research capabilities but also helps satisfy the growing demand for data and computational resources.
UCR was recently invited to join the Association of American Universities (AAU), marking its status as a Research 1 (R1) university. According to an AAU statement, “UCR’s research and graduate education profile has reached a point where it qualifies as one of America’s leading research universities.”
Gunkel envisions the Google partnership and UCR-wide research strategy as more than a shift in technology, but rather a step toward supporting and catalyzing groundbreaking research.
“Through this new service structure, we aim to empower faculty and students to focus on their research by removing administrative barriers and providing quick access to infrastructure and service,” Gunkel said. “The goal is to fuel more discoveries and grants, which in turn will help UCR attract top talent.”
A Track Record of Success
Prior to joining UCR, Gunkel served as Chief Online Learning and Technology Officer at the University of Missouri System. There, he led the digital vision, educational technology, learning analytics, and online roadmap for the four campuses that comprise the public university system for the state of Missouri. Under his leadership, the university combined over 300 academic programs into a cohesive online presence, complete with an enhanced technology platform.
With a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science from Purdue University and a Masters in Information Systems from Indiana University, Gunkel’s technical foundation is solid. However, his professional accomplishments also speak to his business acumen. Gunkel was able to save the University of Missouri System $1.2 million by negotiating technology contracts and partnerships. He also helped raise the university’s U.S. News and World Report’s rankings by improving data alignment, reporting, and key areas of service, such as course quality metrics.
Prior to the University of Missouri System, he served for 13 years in a variety of capacities within IT at Indiana University where, in his position as Director of Teaching and Learning Technology, he oversaw critical IT operations related to cloud, accessibility, Canvas, and analytics.
On a personal note, Gunkel has been married to his wife, whom he met while attending Purdue, for 21 years. Their 20-year-old daughter is currently studying biochemistry at the University of Missouri System and hopes to pursue pre-med. The family has two dogs, an ex-racer greyhound and a dachshund. When not sitting at the computer, Gunkel and his family escape to the outdoors where they enjoy backpacking, camping, and backroad biking.
A University Continuing to Rise
As UCR ITS works to align the campus’ technological trajectory with its strategic initiatives, Gunkel’s vision for digital transformation through innovation at scale and his transformational leadership style are bringing about exciting changes for the university. Named the number one public university in the U.S. for social mobility four years in a row and now a member of the AAU, UCR’s academic and research needs are greater than ever. ITS staff understand the critical role they play in powering the institution’s continued growth and excellence.