Max Cohen:

Service desk supervisor, University Information and Technology

Years at OSU: 15

City of Residence: Philomath

It started March 12, the day after Oregon State employees were encouraged to work remotely as the COVID-19 outbreak escalated. The University Information and Technology service desk received 244 calls. The next day: 273, about 2½ times the normal level.

Then, on March 23, as faculty and instructors were gearing up to teach online, volume reached a new peak: 321 calls. That high mark lasted all of seven days. On March 30, the first day of spring term, 359 calls came in.

From March 12 to April 12, the service desk spent 1,149 hours handling 5,514 calls.

The person leading the coordination of all those calls: Max Cohen.

To make it even more challenging, Cohen had just transitioned about 90% of his employees, about 70 students, to remote working.

“This had to happen in order for the university to function and I was going to do everything in my power to make that so,” Cohen said.

Cohen’s response to the unprecedented workload didn’t surprise two of his colleagues, Chris Sinnett and Kirsten Petersen.

“He is just generally a sunshiny person,” Petersen said. “He has kept morale up. This has been a pretty stressful time. He’s that person that keeps everybody happy to come to work.”

In recent weeks the most common questions were about (1) setting up a virtual private network at homes; (2) remotely accessing a work computer from home; (3) Zoom and Canvas, and their integration; and (4) helping people get set up to work from home.

Cohen continues to come to his office in Milne Computer Center, joined by a few staff members and several student workers. Using proper sanitation and social distancing protocols, they handle only the most urgent information technology needs that can’t be troubleshot remotely.

Cohen said he hasn’t had much time to digest the toll the added workload has had on him. Instead, he pointed to the impact it has had on his student workers. Working remotely, without mentors sitting at an adjacent desk, it can be more challenging for them to get answers to questions from callers.

“While you have a customer on the phone waiting that can be a little uncomfortable,” Cohen said.

Overall, though, Cohen is impressed with how his team and the broader University Information Technology team has responded.

“The first few days of it, as decisions were being made, as information was being passed around, there was a lot of confusion and chaos,” Cohen said. “But our team is pretty used to dealing with chaos. So all things considered, I think our team handled it phenomenally well. I cannot begin to tell you how proud I am, not only of our team, but UIT as a whole.”

~Sean Nealon

Have an OSU Unsung Hero suggestion? We are looking for submissions that highlight OSU employees and students who are not typically in the spotlight but are going above and beyond during this pandemic. Send your suggestions to [email protected] and our staff may contact them to conduct remote interviews that we would feature in OSU Today and elsewhere.