PITTSBURG - A few years ago, the Information Technology Services (ITS) office at Pittsburg State started fielding more and more requests for an official university mobile app.

Students would use it, they heard. Staff would use it. Faculty would use it. Everyone would use it and love it.

That’s great, John Kuefler thought, but when will we ever have time to create it?

With all of the other projects in their queue, finding time to create a mobile app from the ground up may be difficult. So, he and a fellow developer took an idea to Jeff Burns, assistant director of development and implementation

“I think we just sat down one day and asked Jeff if we could spend like an hour and a half of dedicated time on this each week and it would maybe just get done when it got done,” Kuefler said.

In August 2015, Pitt State officially launched its first mobile app.

Since that time, the ITS team has made it a point to allow dedicated time each week to work on projects or kick around ideas that aren’t on their regular to-do list. It’s a professional development technique that has increased productivity and improved team morale and cohesion.

“We are always busy with the day-to-day work in our queue,” Burns said. “It is hard to find time to learn a new skill or create a new tool that doesn't directly relate the task at hand. This was a way to provide time for employees on my team to do that while providing a framework that would be win for the employee and a win for the university.”

The initiative has been so successful and popular in the ITS office, that its leaders have been invited to present the program at this year’s EDUCAUSE National Conference, which brings together some of the brightest minds in higher education IT. The conference begins Oct. 31 in Philadelphia.

Burns said he and his team are excited to present to peers on a national stage.

“Presenting at EDUCAUSE is a great opportunity,” he said. “I am always amazed that some of the things that we take for granted as the way we do business can be so helpful to others when they hear about an idea. Sometimes the idea isn't new or unique, but a lot of people are searching for the starting point and how it can apply in their environment.”

Angela Neria, who leads ITS as Pitt State’s Chief Information Officer, said she’s proud of her team for developing the program and producing “quality results.” Along with the mobile app, another product of the professional development initiative is the GUS Portal, an online system that places in one convenient location various IT resources ranging from campus wifi and wireless printing to email and Microsoft Office programs.

“In our profession, something that is vital to success is the ability to always be looking forward,” Neria said. “We can’t just sit back and react to whatever requests come in. By taking an hour or two each week to be together as a team to toss around ideas or work on a particular project, we are ensuring that we continue to think about the next best thing that could help the university.

Neria said the program also says a lot about the campus culture at Pitt State.

“I absolutely love that PSU is a place where this type of brainstorming and creative thinking is encouraged,” she said. “The culture on our campus promotes research and innovation. We are always urged to think of new things and new ways of doing things. That makes our team better, and it makes the university better.”

Kuefler said the main benefit of the initiative is that it has reminded the IT professionals to “invest in themselves.”

“I think this type of initiative is important because it promotes self-improvement and learning new skills,” he said. “A lot of times I think that people assume that investing in yourself and being at work are mutually exclusive, but I think professional development initiatives bring together those two things.

“It also has a positive effect on morale,” Kuefler said. “Sometimes when you're grinding through the same project for weeks or months, having that professional development project to take a break with once a week can be a big motivator.”