Keeping up with Information Systems: the times, they keep a’changin’

Professors Wilmer Lehman, Del Snyder, Millard Showalter, Joe Mast, and John Horst with a computer drawing of Menno Simons, 1981.

This timeline attempts to chronicle the ever-changing landscape, both mechanical and academic, of information systems at Eastern Mennonite University.

Staff writer Randi B. Hagi and editor Lauren Jefferson did due diligence with these dates, cross-checking with Emeritus Professor Joe Mast ’64 [read about his legacy] and former IT Director Jack Rutt ’72, as well as three other sources, including Keith Bitikofer ’93, who has a unique perspective on this time in campus history. He began working with IT as a student and just a few years after graduation, wired the entire campus for internet in 1995 with the help of a team of students.

We are sure some important dates have been missed, or that various perspectives of oral history may call for a reckoning on some of the information below. Share your info here.


Mahlon Rissler at the helm of the IBM 1130 in 1971.

1968 University payroll and other information systems needs are done at a community computing center run by a large local bank.

1968 The first computer arrives on campus. The refrigerator-sized IBM 1130, obtained through a National Science Foundation federal grant, takes up an entire room in the new Suter Science Center and is used for classes (college and high school) and administration. Data Processing Manager Mahlon Rissler takes on the role of computing center director.

1969 The first computer science course, NATSCI 151 Programming Computers (Fortran language) is taught by physics professor Joseph Willis Mast ’64.

1975 EMC replaces the leased IBM 1130 with a PDP-11, 16-bit microcomputer.

1978 EMC gets the “Hildegard” A.B. Dick 1600 copy printer, responsible for making all of campus copies for years.

1979 Joe Mast starts a two-year Associate in Applied Science degree in computer processing.

Joe Mast, 1978.

1980 Dwight Wyse, director of business affairs, and colleague Mark Shank, director of computer services, begin to tinker with software. The duo eventually leaves to form CMDS, the precursor company to Jenzabar, a leading distributor of higher education management software. Harvey Mast ’80 (one of the first two-year program graduates) is their first employee.

1981 The four-year computer science major is approved. Professor Joe Mast teaches most upper level computer science courses.

1983: The Shenandoah yearbook records the first seniors listed with Computer Processing majors. Jay Esbenshade (liberal arts/computer processing) and Patricia A. Waggy (computer processing)

1983: The first Apple IIe computer is donated by a Lancaster farmer and businessman.

1983 Students use 15 Apple II computers for Basic, Pascal, Modula-11, Lisp, Apple Logo and word processing. Students begin handing in computer-typed papers. Professor Wilmer Lehman begins teaching “Introduction to Computers,” that included word processing, spreadsheet and database management using Appleworks. He says: “This class was very popular (around 40 per semester) as students were eager to learn about using computers.”

1984 An IBM PC is available in the Science Center.

EMU’s first personal computer. (Courtesy of Jack Rutt)

1985 The first Bachelor of Science degrees in computer science are awarded to Dale Hartzler and Denton Yoder.

1985 Around this time, the information systems in business major is created in addition to the existing computer science major. The first prepared students to apply software in the business world; the latter prepared students to write software.

1985 PDP-11, a 64K machine with four terminals about the size of a refrigerator, is used infrequently. Each Apple computer is as powerful as the PDP.

1986 The Weather Vane buys a Macintosh computer (512ke) for newspaper layout.

1987 EMU gets its first laser printer. Among other uses, the communications department printed newsletters and the quarterly magazine.

1987 The Mathematical Sciences Department buys 18 IBM PC’s with 2-5.25 inch disk drives.

1988 The Mathematical Sciences Department moves to new computer center over summer with new Mac SE computers.

1989 The catalogue is formatted with a desktop publishing program by student Keith Bitikofer (’93).

David C. Stoltzfus, key operator; Robin J. Libby, typist; M. June Drescher, word processing coordinator; and Marcia Troyer, typist of the 1980 Word Processing staff.

1990 The addition of Charles Cooley doubles the computer science faculty in the Mathematical Sciences Department.

1991 A local computer company is hired to upgrade the computer lab to a Novell Server (possibly version 3.11). There was still no local hard drives; a ‘boot’ disk pointed computers to the server from which software was pulled. The computers were connected with 10MB Ethernet coax lines to the server.

Around this time, Bitikofer, who worked with many departments on campus both as work-study and volunteer, remembers stopping by alumni and development offices after class one day and noticing that many employees were cleaning their desks. “I knew the server was down. I did some quick fix and everybody was back to work, but I knew their lives and mine had changed. They were now dependent on the computer network to be able to do their jobs!”

Networks between computers were also jury-rigged in no systematic way. “When the admin people in the president’s office wanted on the ‘network,’ I then ran a coax line across the hall to the President’s office and connected in all their computers,” he remembers.

1992 New Acer computers replace the original computers in the business lab.

1994 The Information Systems Department is founded. Dan Marple Sr., who had worked for IBM and Honeywell IAC, is hired to lead the department. The new seminary building is wired with Cat 5 cable for phone and computers. A 12 pair fiber cable is run between the Seminary and the Campus Center.

In a time-consuming process that took all summer, Keith Bitikofer and three work-study students installed new phone and computer lines are installed around campus. Conduits and cables connect the Campus Center with Northlawn and Elmwood. Fiber optic cabling and ½ in Coax Cabling was installed between the Campus Center, the Chapel, Library, and the Science Center.

In the fall, Professor Joe Mast applies for a National Science Foundation grant to fund internet access on campus. Campus Center staff are set-up for email, but didn’t check it until President Joe Lapp ’66 was convinced to send a ‘welcome to email’ message. Then a whole group of people called to ask me how to check their email! Everybody wanted to read what Joe had sent!” (Keith Bitikofer).

Mast acquires the domain name by applying at the University of Virginia. Dan Marple Sr. becomes responsible for setting up the email system from there.

1994 Ron Helmuth ’74 is hired as the IS director, leading an eight-person department.

1995 EMU gets a Title III grant  to install network cabling on campus, “automate” the library, install computers for faculty and staff, and get computer support staff in place. (Title III is a federal program for education grants, many geared towards language instruction.

In the summer,  a team of seven students (Ben Derstine, Mike Stoltzfus, Brad Kipfer, Mat Horst, Larry Green, Dan Zook, Marie Mayes) under the supervision of Keith Bitikofer install 170,000 feet of Cat 5 cable and 60,000 feet of indoor Coax cable was installed to wire the library, science center, chapel, physical plant, athletics and three residence halls. Approximately 5,000 feet of fiber was installed between buildings at a cost of $21,000. They also helped build around 20 new computers. Dan Marple also supervised two students who contributed, Kevin Miller and Joel Kauffman. Because students did most of the work, Bitikofer estimates the college saved $200,000 or more (based on Gettysburg College spending $35,000 per building to install wiring).

EMU has internet via a phone line at 56kb/sec speed, two computer labs and AS/400 administrative computers with registration software, financial accounting records and grade recording capabillity.

1996: The first web server was likely created. The first course catalog was available online. Parkwood Apartments are wired.

EMU receives a Title III grant to buy Arkenstone Open Book Reading System for ground floor of library, which reads books aloud for those with reading disabilities.

1999 Jack Rutt began as information systems director; he is the third in three years. His initial projects include upgrading computer network to “ciscogigabit” technology, replacing over 100 slow older PCs, upgrading student information software (Goldmine) and upgrading AS/400.

2000 The Student Government Association addresses internet usage issues in campus meeting, as student streaming is affecting academic and business use of campus internet.

2000 (approx) Marketing and IS staff form a collaborative Web Work Team for oversight and development of the university’s growing “public” website and intranet. (The team continues to manage the university’s web resources 17 years later.)

2002 EMU doubles its internet connection capacity and upgrades bandwidth management appliance.

2005 Joe Mast retires from EMU after 38 years.

2006 Visual arts and communication majors begin internships with marketing web staff on the university website, producing photography and videography for

2006 Jenzabar offers “transition licenses” for Jenzabar TE users to get the better annual maintenance costs of EX. EMU signs on. Alumnus Mike Weaver leads in-depth software demonstrations for departments to become familiar with EX.

2007 EMU revises its computer science major to prepare adaptable students with a strong background and skills in computer information systems, computer science, software engineering and information technology.

2007 EMU begins converting from AS/400 Jenzabar TE student information systems to Windows Jenzabar EX.

2009 EMU finishes the conversion to EX.

2010 Computer Science majors begin internships with marketing staff on the university website. Many are double majors who are also in the Visual and Communication Arts program. Students select a creative field of interest (writing, photography or videography) and use their systems background under the direction of the marketing web content manager/strategist to incorporate their work into redesigned web pages and new sections of the site.

2010 The first fully online program – the MS in nursing degree – started, with all 37 semester hours  offered online except for a residency orientation and 3 day Conflict course residency. There were several online seminary courses before the start of the MSN.

2011 Brian Gumm is hired as an online education design specialist, helping to manage an ever-expanding catalogue of online and hybrid classes.

2014 Ben Beachy is given IS department leadership from Jack Rutt.

2014 IS triples the amount of wireless access points in the dorms to increase bandwidth. 

2015 A collaborative MBA program, which is primarily online and synchronizes classes with students around the world, begins.

2015 EMU launches a redesigned graduate school website and corresponding sites for each of the dozen graduate offerings. The sites are completed after months of collaboration between marketing, IS web staff, and graduate program leadership.

Did we forget something? Do you have something to add. Share your info here.
Posted on December 22, 2016