Furloughed From San Diego State U., CIO Flies Relief Missions to Haiti

Rich Pickett is in tears.

The San Diego State University chief information officer has been flying people and supplies back and forth to Haiti since last week. Now, as he talks to a reporter by phone from Florida before stepping into “the bird” for yet another flight, it’s the image of one child that leaves him struggling to speak. 

He had taken down some balls on one flight. A fellow relief worker distributed one to children. “She noticed that the boy who had it, dropped it,” Mr. Pickett says. “And she turned to look and noticed the reason he dropped it is because his arms were gone. So it bounced on the ground. And he used his feet and just juggled with it.”

San Diego State U.

Rich Pickett (right) is using his mandatory furlough days to fly people and supplies back and forth to Haiti.

It’s one of many moving moments from a journey that began when Mr. Pickett asked himself this question: “What skills do I have to help?”

Higher-ed IT folks like Mr. Pickett have been using an Educause listserv to discuss how they can help Haiti. But Mr. Pickett, who manages technology at San Diego State, has one technical skill you don’t often find in the CIO’s office: He has been a licensed pilot for 32 years. So he joined a grassroots group of pilots shepherding supplies to the earthquake-ravaged country. Flying a friend’s stripped-down, $4 million executive plane, he brings soap. Tents. X-ray machines. He returns with people: Doctors. A soldier. An orphan.

The budget shortfall is forcing California State University to furlough employees for two days a month. Mr. Pickett is using his forced time off, plus vacation days, to pull off flying days that can start at 6 a.m. and end 19 hours later. He is also using his technology skills to blog about the experience.

“I couldn’t think of a better use of your state furlough time,” he says.

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