New CIO will focus on the people who use the machines

Mely Tynan

The possibilities of technology, says Amelia Tynan, extend far beyond computers, gadgets—or any machines. The key, she says, is people.

“It’s all about people,” says Tynan, Tufts’ new vice president for information technology and chief information officer. “There may be alluring new technologies, but discovery, creating new knowledge, innovation—all that is produced by people. The joy I find as a CIO in an academic setting is bringing ideas and people together.”

Tynan joined Tufts in September after serving as vice provost and CIO at the University of Rochester. Her initial interest was psychology—specifically, verbal learning, psycholinguistics and memory—and she was on the psychology faculty of the University of the Philippines before making the switch to academic computing.

Seamless technology
“What really interested me was research and the teaching and learning process,” she says. Computer systems “should emphasize the human aspects; the human part of system design and development is usually ignored. This continues to be an area of interest for me—how to make technology and computers more seamless so that we can focus on teaching and learning and not so much on the tool.”

A native of the Philippines, Tynan—who uses the nickname “Mely”—was raised as one of 12 children. Her father, a physician, imparted a passion for learning. “He had very high standards. It was learn, learn, learn,” she says.

Her introduction to technology was accidental: In 1981, she was looking for a project to occupy her time while her husband was concentrating on his studies. She tried sewing. “I wanted to make my husband a bathrobe, but I could only finish one sleeve, so I thought I’d try my hand at something a little more straightforward,” she says.

What she tried next was building a small microprocessor, using a do-it-yourself package popular among technophiles at the time. “It used a cassette tape for input/output and a very basic programming language. I had my own PC before PCs came to life.”

A short while later, it was her knowledge of statistical programming—used in her psychological research—and the experience gained on her “little machine” that led to her first position in technology at the University of Dayton in Ohio. She later worked at the University of Arizona, where she ultimately became vice provost for university information technology.

Tynan has played a key role in several organizations for IT professionals. She is the co-coordinator of the Seminar in Academic Computing’s Executive Leaders Institute in Snowmass, Colo. In Rochester, she was active in a business roundtable for CIOs from major companies; she also helped organize a scholarship program for high school and college students through the eBusiness Association of Rochester.

As the first CIO for the University of Rochester, Tynan led an IT reorganization, produced the first IT strategic plan and oversaw major infrastructure improvements. She also helped create a computer expo for first-year students that has grown into a campus-wide orientation event.

“Technology can ease many tensions and boundaries, allow the blending of teaching and learning, facilitate cross-disciplinary work,” Tynan says. “At Rochester, we have a Latin motto, Meliora….it stands for ‘always better.’ And what I see happening at Tufts rings with the same essence of moving forward.

“Of course, technology can be part of that. But it’s not so much about technology itself, but about the ability of the university to achieve this higher goal with the help of technology.”