Michael Mathews: A Visionary Pioneer Seeking to Expand Education with Advanced Technology Solutions

Located in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Oral Roberts University’s six colleges offer over 150 undergraduate and graduate programs, including four doctoral programs. The University has over 4,000 students in for-credit programs and over 4,500 certificate-seeking students. The students come from 116 different nations. Most recently, ORU ranked 4th in the United States for student engagement by the Wall Street Journal/Times Higher Ed. ORU offers the most comprehensive technology solutions to enhance the student experience. These solutions include a solution for augmented and virtual reality, artificial intelligence and access to one of the higher education’s fastest supercomputers.  

 

Inquisitive Leadership beyond Academia 

Michael L. Mathews (Mike), CIO and VP for Technology Innovation at Oral Roberts University has over 24-years of experience as a senior-level IT executive bringing creative solutions that value the end-users of technology and business process management. These solutions have benefited the end-users of higher education, manufacturing, and high technology company products, and resulted in garnering over 12 global awards. Mike has held positions as a chief information officer, general manager of CIOs, chief strategist for innovation, business development officer, trainer, teacher, and vice president of academic services for leading corporations and higher education. He has served as CIO within higher education for over 12 years.  

Mike has a deep and rich work history including 12-years at Cray Research as an instructor and global training manager; as well as 12-years at SunGard Higher Education (Ellucian) where he served as a chief information officer, and vice president of academic services. In these roles, he has influenced 100s of research, energy, chemical, and manufacturing companies, as well as over twenty community colleges, universities, and statewide systems. His dual experience in business and education along with working knowledge of seven Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems has allowed him to quickly assess business process and technology innovation that creatively impacts products, processes, students, and society. In 2019, Mike was named Innovator of the Year by Industry Era, 2018 Top 100 CIO Winner, and in 2017 one of the top 30 Education Innovators by the Center for Digital Education and the winner of the Dr. Wayne Brown Leadership Award. 

 

Learning through Experiences 

Mike feels blessed to have spent the first twelve years out of college at Cray Research, Supercomputer Company as an engineer and training manager. This experience helped him become engaged with 8-12 various industries and understand how they leveraged the power of a supercomputer. According to him, learning about multiple industries who were all at the level of leveraging a supercomputer illuminated the world in a way few people experience. He finds that the supercomputer was purposely used to shift and transform almost every industry. This gave him an advantage for all of his future jobs and bestowed an endeavor with one goal in mind ‘transform the business to be the best’.    

So, when he landed his first job as a technology leader in education, Mike used all this experience and passion for starting change within education. Within two years during his first education position, he was able to design and deliver the first online courses for a global audience. The New York Times did a special coverage on this accomplishment and published the story alongside Oxford University in 1998.  

This first accomplishment in the industry of education fueled Mikes desire to know that with enough focus and passion, things can be shifted to help individuals through education and technology. Such a blend has allowed an incredible amount of transformation within education. And, each level of industry achievement has increased the outcome of the next level of achievement.  

 

An Epitome of Grit  

Mike has an exceptionally high level of persistence. So for him, the everyday obstacles have seldom been a challenge. However, he considers his greatest asset and weakness is his desire to help others step up to higher levels of accomplishments to experience the joy of work. Early on, as a technical person, he did not necessarily have the stamina and emotional intelligence to be successful at this. After 10-years of beginning his career, Mike obtained another degree in pastoral and biblical studies. This tremendously helped him to understand people better and leverage the power of scripture.  

He says that the combination of both technical and pastoral degrees guided him to drive change while letting him focus on helping others come along on the journey of transformation.  

 

Insignia of a Remarkable Leader 

Mike believes that every leader should have a balance between intellectual intelligence, emotional intelligence, and spiritual intelligence. The balance of these three attributes allows leaders to find a sweet-spot of how to leverage energy, passion, and persistence.  More importantly, it will enable oneself to understand the need for levels of intensity better and keep the perseverance in the right context, especially ones mentees 

 

Passion Mixed With Work Culture Deliver Trailblazing Contributions 

Speaking of ORUs contributions, Mike says that ORU is inspiring every student to see their place in transforming the world through their respective discipline. The theme for ORU is Educating whole leaders for the whole world. In essence, he and his team contribute to mentoring and inspiring every student through educational journey. Over the past 55 years, ORU has inspired over 90,000 young people to go and impact their world.  

In the area of technology, ORU has inspired the world and young professionals through its leadership in augmented and virtual reality, blockchain, data science, and artificial intelligence. ORU has won three of the most prestigious awards in higher education over the past three years. This award-winning approach has drawn people like Vinay Manda, Victor EkwereJesupelumi Wickcliffe, and Adwait Raiborde to become some of the next great leaders in higher education transformation.  

Vinay Manda is the Chief Data Scientist at Oral Roberts University. He has a Master of Business Administration degree with a concentration in Finance and Accounting, a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Information Technology, and a Bachelor of Commerce. His contribution has enabled weaving the world of data so that ORU can digitize education to reach students from 195 nations.  According to Vinay, data seen in isolation is rarely helpful, even with the best of visuals. This is where the art of data science helps to digest complex (and sometimes abstract information) and present it in a meaningful way, such that an average user can walk away with more significant insights into decision-making. Vinay’s diverse background has empowered him to take a 360 view approach, connecting the dots between different systems, both internal and external, and bringing that information to one place to be consumed. 

Victor Ekwere is an MBA graduate from ORU and is currently a Digital Analyst, there. Under Mike’s tutelage, Victor was able to get over 4,500 students to enroll in the ORU Quest Certificate programs in various life-changing courses. Along with his colleague, Jesupelumi Wickliffe, he developed a pair of AI-Enabled Smart Glasses. This glasses houses an entire course, including quizzes and reading materials, and is currently, ORU’s best-selling non-certificate program to date, with over 1,500 registrations.  

Jesupelumi Wickliffe, who is the Chief AI Data Scientist at Oral Roberts University, is accredited with the tag of developing AI-Enabled MQ Mirror at ORU. This mirror is a life-size digital assistant that helps students to engage with themselves in a thoughtful way that transforms and augments their life experiences. Via the AI-enabled MQ mirror, students can access their records and other campus resources such as course works. This makes ORU the first University to deliver courses in such an engaging and reflective way. 

One of the transformative uses of the MQ Mirror is via an interactive session with the mirror that leverages AI to determine how the user is feeling and based on the result, displays relevant resources in a personalized way that improves the wellbeing of the user. A person can use the MQ-Mirror to diagnose, improve and monitor their state of mental wellbeing. Besides, ORU is currently working with other health organizations to use its AI-enabled MQ-Mirror to expedite solution delivery to tackle the rising mental health problems across campus colleges and the workforce.  

Adwait Raiborde is a GIS Analyst at ORU. One day, while going through the data and archives of ORU, Adwait discovered that more than 140 nations had been represented in the past by the institute. So, inspired by Mike, he decided to leverage technology on this data to spread Education to different locations in the World. This project which Adwait calls as ‘Local to Global’, received significant success in 2019, when the team at ORU was able to give certificates to people in different nations like Pakistan, India, Malta and Singapore using blockchain. Through the Educating Whole Leaders for the Whole World “, it was observed that ORU had impacted almost 195 Nations in many other aspects. Utilizing his knowledge in Geospatial data along with Location Intelligence, Adwait was able to recruit and spread the awareness of ORU across the globe. 

 

Leadership Evolving Amid Disruptive Technologies 

Mike is confident that technologies will continue to transform and disrupt the education industry. One clear example is how Zoom and other virtual classroom applications have grown and been embraced during the disruption of Covid-19. Zoom alone has grown from 25 million users to 350 million users in four months. This allowed Zoom to become wealthier than the top seven major commercial airlines combined, and larger than IBM. In this case and many more, it is not the technology that is the disruption, but the circumstances in the world, causing a shift that leverages technology.  

 Oral Roberts University has also proven that augmented and virtual reality, artificial intelligence, and data science has transformed the method to both deliver and receive instruction and education.  

 The role of the technology leader has changed in two significant ways. The first way is to understand that the science of technology has become a commodity that can be done anywhere, but the art of how to apply technology is a rare skill. The art of using the science of an entity like technology is how well you integrate it, interface it with humanity, articulate it, and finally display it. This concept can be understood when using Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality (AR-VR) as an example. The science is the AR-VR, but the art is taking it from an immersive learning experience into a humersive learning experience to interface with humanity. The second area is that a leader must recognize that their mission as a CIO is to help their users of technology survive and thrive in a digital world in which everyone finds ourselves navigating.  

 

A Digital Powered Future 

Mike is affirmative on his belief that ORUs passion for reaching every nation, with every means possible, coupled with the worldwide pandemic will bring extraordinary invention and innovation. Many of these inventions, including a special AI-enabled smart TV, and AI data wrapper named SeligoAI have already been proven at ORU, and will now start being adopted by the rest of the education industry.  

 

Words of Wisdom 

Mike is an advocate of the conviction that every leader must balance the fine line between being a great data steward vs. focusing solely on cybersecurity.  Many people live in fear of cybercrime and security while missing the greatest need to be ‘great data stewardship’. Data stewardship is accountability over all aspects of an organization and user data. There are a plethora of companies who can act as cybersecurity experts to keep hackers out, but few companies that can act as data stewards in each unique industry. ORU has leveraged one of the best systems in higher education called SeligoAI to bring the best intelligence and continuity across all campus systems.