Meet HMG’s Rockstar Tech Execs: Helen Norris, VP and CIO at Chapman University

I had a genuinely enlightening conversation last week with Helen Norris, Vice President and CIO at Chapman University in Orange, California. Chapman is a distinguished institution of higher education with a reputation for world-class research. Helen, who is nominated for an HMG Strategy 2023 Global Leadership Institute award and is a Member at Large for the Southern California SIM chapter, began her career as a corporate technology leader, and I asked her to tell me what had attracted her to the world of higher education.

“I’m drawn to the mission of education, and I enjoy working for a mission-driven institution,” Helen says. “It was a great experience working in the corporate world, but I really enjoy the experience of feeling that the work I do makes a difference to the community and to the future because we’re here to support the students and the faculty in producing the next generation of leaders in the world.”

In addition to providing a distinct sense of purpose, the university setting also offers opportunities for technology leaders to apply their skills to solving problems that impact students, faculty and the community. “In the CIO role, you touch every part of the organization. You get to meet everyone. You get a bird’s eye view into what goes on,” Helen notes.

Helen says that the university’s organizational structure is also a very positive factor. “I serve on the President’s Senior Staff, and I report directly to the president. I feel that I have the opportunity to participate in the university’s strategic planning process and in setting our goals at a higher level, and then doing what needs to be done in the IT organization to support those goals,” Helen explains.

I also asked Helen to describe her leadership style. “I would say that my approach is collaborative. That’s how we work in Higher Ed — it’s a very collaborative environment and my collaborative style really fits in here,” she says.

In addition to building relationships with her colleagues in the C-suite, she also focuses on creating constructive relationships with the faculty and the students. “Universities have this concept of shared governance, so it’s important to build relationships. I try to build relationships, and then really leverage those relationships to build consensus and make meaningful change,” Helen says.

I truly appreciate and admire how Helen sees relationship-building as an absolutely essential part of her role as a technology leader. And I am delighted, or course, that Helen is one our HMG Champions. From my perspective, Helen is a role model for all of us.

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