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Annual Review 2020-2021

Getting to know Rutgers IT

Mike Hitchcock

User Support Services Specialist, OIT Help Desk

 What’s a fun fact about you that many people may not know?

Aside from being a supervisor for the OIT Help Desk and providing tech support to the Rutgers community, my husband and I are pet parents to over twenty animals. I have three dogs—Chewbacca, Khaleesi, and Morrigan; two green-cheeked conure birds, Kiwi and Mango; two ferrets, Lucy and Mina; two guinea pigs, Vlad and Cilantro; five chickens, and five fish, and a few snails. During the past year when we had to make the switch to remote, they were my work-from-home companions. Every day is an adventure with my energetic and attention-seeking pets, and I can definitely say there’s never a dull moment at home.

Interview by Amanda Pecora

Mario Veras

Sr. Client Services Analyst, Rutgers–Newark

You kept going to the office throughout most of the pandemic. What was that like?

Lonely. I was sometimes the only person in my building. It is nice to have people back in the office, but I’m still adjusting to it.

What do you do for fun?

I love photography, and I’m a stargazer, so one of my favorite things is photographing phenomena in the sky. The coolest thing I’ve managed to capture is the 2017 total solar eclipse. New Jersey wasn’t in the totality path, which is where the moon would be directly in front of the sun, so I went to South Carolina, which was both in the totality path and predicted to have a clear day. I was still nervous that clouds would ruin it, but the weather was perfect, and I got great shots.

Interview by Andrew Smith

The AlgoRhythms

EAS Exclusive House Band


We understand there is an EAS band, the AlgoRhythms? How did that come to be?

Mark: I agreed to play for a staff picnic, and I’m usually a solo artist. At the time, I happened to become friends with a colleague, Raul, who plays saxophone, so I said “I’m playing guitar. Would you like to play saxophone?” We did something ad-hoc at the picnic. Then, at the following holiday party, he included our colleague, Rich, who’s a pianist, guitarist, and drummer—a man of many talents. Then they found Jean-Marc, who’s a bass player and guitarist. At the next party, we expanded it even further, with Jerry. So, when you say there’s a band, it’s a fluid item.

What’s a fun memory from playing in the band?

Raul: Getting to hold a practice session at Woodrock Studios (thanks to Jerry!), a professional-caliber recording and rehearsal studio, which gave us an opportunity to get to know each other more outside of work and in a wonderfully inspiring space.

Rich:  The holiday party was the first time I felt like we were a full-fledged band. It was the first time Jerry joined us and really completed our band – and having David Cruz serving as our natural life of the party. It was a really fun time! 

What’s the favorite song you play with the band?

Jerry: I think my favorite song of the set was “Free Fallin.’” It was one of the first songs that we attempted, and when it all came together it sounded great and everyone got excited. That was a great memory.

Jean-marc: I think my favorite song of the set was between “Free Fallin’,” “My Girl,” and “Bad Bad Leroy Brown.” We had lots of fun playing those classics.

Interview by Allan Hoffman

Guitar/Vocals: Mark Tenzer – Applications Developer

Saxophone/Drums: Raul Sala – Programmer Analyst

Guitar/Vocals: Jerry Lardieri – Applications Developer

Bass/Guitar: Jean-marc Attis – Applications Developer

Piano/Drums/Guitar: Richard Sese – Applications Developer

Laura Gordon

Web Developer, School of Arts and Sciences

What do you like to do in your spare time?

I am taking courses for my Master of Business Science degree in User Experience Design through Rutgers, have been part of the Joomla! (content management system) user group since 2007, allowing me to participate in conferences worldwide (most recently in Barcelona, Spain in January 2020), and I’m a coordinator of the Women in IT group for Rutgers. I’m also heavily involved in the Central Jersey Diaper Bank, a non-profit organization that provides diapers, wipes, formula, and other essentials to struggling families. I’m also an amusement park aficionado (as are my husband and two sons), and every summer, we go rollercoaster riding for a week at various parks across the country.

What’s your favorite coaster?

Millennium Force, Cedar Point—the height is 310 feet, and the speed is 93 mph. In the front row, at around 9 p.m. in the summertime, just after the sun goes down, you feel like you are flying through space, with the lake on one side of you and the view of the amusement park on the other.


The scariest had to be X2 in Magic Mountain, California. The carts hang off the side of the track and rotate while the coaster is running. My son was 11 at the time and in the front row, and I thought for sure he would not be in the seat when we got back to the station. Good news—he has made it to 19.

Interview by Amanda Pecora

Oluwatosin Adeeko

User Support Services Specialist, Rutgers–Newark

You have a rather unique identity. Tell us about that.

I am fully Nigerian and fully American, and I’m so proud of it. I still love the culture and the history of Nigeria, where I was born. But I have also lived most of my life in the United States and this has made me who I am today, and I embrace the American culture, as well. This was especially visible during my wedding that recently happened in September. I had the cultural Nigerian ceremony, but I also had a traditional “white-dress” wedding where I walked down the aisle. I love the way these two cultures have shaped me to be unique.

What’s a project you worked on at Rutgers that you’re proud of?

Two years ago, within OIT, we had this excellent program where we worked with the Big Picture Academy to have East Side High School students come to the IT service center to be interns. I was able to teach them how to build websites and to use some programming languages like Python and Java. Most importantly, I tried to encourage them to be self-learners, follow the news, and see what’s the latest in technology, so you can think further ahead. It was a big success. We would teach them a little bit, and they would run with it. They had a great time with it and went above and beyond.

Interview by Allan Hoffman

Abeer Elahraf

Assistant Dean for Data Management and Security,
School of Arts and Sciences–Newark

What is something you did during the pandemic that you might not have gotten a chance to do?

I like to cook, so I started cooking new things that we have never tried before. I made dishes that I’ve always wanted to make but didn’t have time for. I also started growing a small vegetable garden. Gardening actually became very therapeutic and relaxing! It also helped in case we couldn’t get vegetables for our dishes from the supermarket during the pandemic.   

What have you been working on over the past year that you’re really proud of?

During the pandemic, I continued to work on my PhD in Information Systems with a concentration in Dynamic Composition and Management of Emergency Response Processes. I’m thrilled to share that I just completed my degree! Additionally, I have been working with fellow Rutgers colleagues as a coordinator of the Women in IT group.

What did you miss the most about campus during the pandemic?

Not being able to be with my team in-person. It was great connecting via Teams for everything work-related and virtual lunches/coffee breaks, but we are a close-knit group, so I missed our daily interaction in the office. Also, I missed the overall campus atmosphere—seeing the students walking from building to building or coming into the School of Arts and Sciences. I love playing a role in their education. That’s why we do what we do.

Interview by Amanda Pecora

Jason Gambone

IT Manager, Rutgers University-Camden

You’re an avid photographer. What types of photos do you like to take?

It was a Japanese photographer that I saw 20 years ago that was doing firefly photography and I said, “I have to find a way to do this.” So, it took several years of building up a skillset, then I pushed it even further and decided I wanted to photograph synchronous fireflies, where they flash six or seven times in a row, stop for a few seconds, and repeat the process. It’s amazing to see and difficult to photograph because you go out to a location during the day and go “Well, I guess there’s going to be fireflies here.” But you don’t know. I’d go to a spot and wait. It has to be warm. It has to be a little wet and it feels like you are part weatherman sometimes. It’s great being able to bring these images to people because you show them and it triggers their memories of summertime, being a kid, and happy thoughts.

What advice do you have for those who are just starting with a camera?

Shoot as much as possible, especially if you enjoy it. Go out and try as much as you can. Try different things. Link up with somebody if you can, even someone who just likes to do it for fun, because it’s great bouncing ideas off each other. There are a couple guys I go out shooting with and that helps motivate me to go out and do something, and then you talk shop with people.

Interview by Stephen Connelly

Travis Gant

Assistant Director of IT, School of Dental Medicine

What interests do you have outside of work?

I’m pretty involved with doing my own home renovations. I’m about halfway done with renovating our kitchen. That was my pandemic project. I decided to do it the hard way, building my own cabinets and what not. I have a house that was built in 1906, so it really requires a lot of thought when doing these things because, you know, Home Depot doesn’t really have a lot of off-the-shelf parts for a hundred-year-old house. It’s a labor of love. Luckily my wife hasn’t killed me yet taking over half of the kitchen.

What’s an interesting change you’ve made?

I like coming up with creative solutions for day-to-day problems around the house. So, an example is constantly forgetting to take out the garbage on garbage day. I ended up putting an RFID tag by the garbage bin, so if I don’t take my phone and put it up to the sensor on garbage night by a certain time, the house will be yelling at me to take out the garbage.

Interview by Stephen Connelly

Kim Kaiser

Unit Computing Specialist, School of Social Work

What were some of the hardest things to adjust to being remote during the pandemic?

I had been working for Rutgers Libraries and I was set to start my new job in Rutgers’ School of Social Work on April 1, 2020, right in the beginning of the pandemic. So here I was starting a completely new job, being remote, without a chance to meet my team members and learn about my role in-person. It was definitely a challenge, but one I was willing to accept. As a parent, juggling three kids and conducting “mommy school” for my two oldest was also hard to do on top of everything else. Luckily, with my previous teaching background, we got into the swing of things and I helped my kids stay focused during “remote” school. Looking back, it was fun to learn through my kids’ eyes, teach them new skills, and ultimately “go to school” with them.

Is there anything memorable you did during the pandemic?

Spending time with my family and introducing all the Marvel movies to my kids. I felt like with all the cartoons out there, they needed to get to know the world of comics and superheroes.

Speaking of superheroes, if you could have a superpower, what would it be?

Telekinesis and mind-reading. I feel like that would make me the all-powerful superhero.

Interview by Amanda Pecora

Victor Gomes

System Administrator, RU–Camden IT

We understand you’ve worked at the Olympics a number of times. What sort of work?

I met someone in college, who ended up becoming the project manager for a group that has a contract to set up the NBC Today Show studio at the Olympics. I started working on his crew in 2012 in London and have done it for Sochi 2014, Rio 2016, and Pyeongchang 2018. My job was to be a part of the build and the dismantle. Usually, it took about two weeks with two to three days of downtime. I had family near almost every location we had gone to, so along with some local sightseeing, I was able to spend some time with relatives in Brazil, visit my grandparents in Portugal while setting up for London, and for Russia, I had some family out in the Switzerland, Italy area I visited. Rio de Janeiro was my favorite experience because I spoke the language, and I love the food and the culture, plus the set was a beautiful location right on the beach. Russia might have been the most difficult. We were actually there, during the teardown, when they had invaded Crimea. We ended up getting locked down in the hotel for three days. We were allowed to finish our job, then they escorted us to the plane as soon as we were done, and we were gone. We had security detail with us the entire time.

Interview by Stephen Connelly

Obi Agbara

Information Security & Risk Manager, Information Security Office

Why did you get into risk management?

We’re all in risk management. It’s an essential human activity. You’re managing risk with a hundred decisions each day, like choosing how fast to drive or whether you should carry an umbrella. The only difference for me is that I do it professionally too. Our decisions to take risks should always align with what we are willing to tolerate.

Who are you out of the office? What’s your favorite food?

I’m from an ethnic group called the Igbo’s in southern Nigeria, and my favorite food is a dish called jollof rice, which is spiced and stewed in a flavorful tomato broth and goat meat. It is everything from “every day” to a celebration. My kids hover around the kitchen and get excited when preparing it.

What does goat meat taste like?

Oh, it’s delicious. It tastes like sort of like lamb, only better. You have to cook it a long time because it starts off tough, but cooked properly, it’s incredible.

Interview by Andrew Smith

Jawad Irshad

Systems Programmer/Cloud Engineer, Enterprise Infrastructure

What did you miss about campus during the past year?

The chance to see it. I got hired after the pandemic hit the US, so I spent my first 18 months as a Rutgers employee without setting foot on campus or physically meeting any colleagues. It was an unusual experience not being able to interact with everyone, but I was just happy the hire went through.

Did you struggle to get in the swing of things?

No, because luckily with the cloud, you can work from wherever you are as long as you have a decent internet connection. In fact, one of my first big projects was for the Rutgers Overseas Semester Experience (ROSE). The main task for this project was setting up a system that let our students in China keep taking classes from halfway around the world. Staff were worried China’s “great firewall” and the distance would create issues for remote learning, but we quickly found and implemented a solution that delivered the required applications as if students were still able to be on campus. Also, my team’s support made it easier to adjust.

Interview by Andrew Smith

Sue Oldenburg

Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Specialist, Office of Advanced Research Computing

What are some interesting places you’ve visited?

When I was young, I traveled with my grandparents a lot, and we visited all throughout Europe. I went to a rugby game and thought this was the best thing ever. When I was at the University of Michigan, there was a rugby club, and that started it for me. I played and coached rugby at the college and national levels, and because of it, traveled all over the place. That took me to places that were on my bucket list like South Africa. It took me to England, throughout Europe, the Bahamas, and across the United States.

Do you have any particular interests in your travels?

I have a passion for National Parks. I have a goal to get to all of them and am about a third of the way through. My favorite, so far, is Glacier National Park in Montana.

Interview by Allan Hoffman

Interested in learning more or want to be featured in future “Getting to know you” Rutgers IT pages? Please contact IT Communications.