MARMOT Program: An Inside Look

When you talk to the MARMOTs you get the answers you seek – and fast – but you’ll come away wondering how you got them. The group answers casual questions the same way they would answer a support desk ticket – eagerly and in unison. You get the feeling they’re the quirky, tech-inclined cells of a single organism; they buzz with energy, finishing each others’ sentences more or less seamlessly, laughing. Tap into their group mythology – the closet office and summer schedules of their origin – and brave the cacophony that follows; to ask if they have any good MARMOT stories is to kickstart chaos.

The MARMOTs, or Magnanimous Assistants Repairing Malfunctioning Office Technology, were dubbed such by Dave Wang. “Whenever Dave sees something rising, he wants to be the first to give it a name,” IT Director Keith Kuwatani said. Charlotte, whose sister was among the first MARMOTs, chimed in, “He likes animals, especially weird rodents.”

Before MARMOTs existed, an outside IT company made Bay’s 1:1 laptop program possible. “There would be five or eight of them and they would work all summer,” Charlotte said. “Keith would be here on the weekends; he would be pulling longer hours. My sister was there and he asked her if she wanted to help for the summer.”

Sam and Alex came aboard later. “Alex and I started our freshman year,” Sam said. “Before Keith’s office was this big, it was actually almost walk-in closet-sized. Two people could fit inside of it. It wasn’t an official thing, it was more ‘You two are nerds interested in technology and would you like to help out around?’”

They accepted, and the group grew from there, its members becoming so involved and spending so much time together that they formed “a tight-knit family” of verifiable student experts. Two years ago, so many students sought to be MARMOTs that the group had to implement a formalized application process. “The MARMOTs did the entire thing,” said Keith. “They created the application; they created the interview process; they did everything.” Now, of the 30 or so applicants each year, around four are accepted into the one-of-a-kind program.

So, once little more than a happenstance assistantship, the MARMOT program now comprises a full-fledged IT department, together with Keith and Technology Associate Vince Coloyan. But, Vince points out, it’s unlike anything he ever experienced during his 13+ years in the corporate world: “This is far and beyond any help desk. Here you have 12 students who actually know what they’re talking about because they’re doing the same things.”

What they accomplish is no small feat; during the summer, when MARMOTships are paid positions, the team handles hundreds of  laptops. “We basically image and configure every single laptop in the school,” Luke said. That is, they fix them up, put the right software on them and redistribute them good as new – a complex task that requires significant expertise to complete.

The rest of the year the MARMOTs function on a volunteer basis, meeting once a week, resolving the thousands of questions that come through the online support desk and accumulating outrageous stories. “The stories are endless,” said Keith. “They could go on forever.” A sweet sample: honey-glazed computers and a Kit Kat used as a USB. Tumultuous laughter ensues.

Being a MARMOT is an exercise in common interest-fed bonding, to be sure, but it’s far more than that. The MARMOTs don’t just fulfill a critical function; they do it voluntarily, efficiently and gleefully, gaining some pretty solid work experience all the while. For some, the program is a powerful precursor to a career in tech, but regardless of how they want to use their skills, all MARMOTs emerge prepared to manage time, problem-solve, interact professionally and work as a team. “We each have a different role,” said Kiyona. “We’ve got the really advanced techies and the more organizational people; you need leaders and you need people to help out with technical difficulties.” The consensus: As The Bay School gets the IT attention it needs from the MARMOTs, the MARMOTs can customize their experiences to get what they need from the program.

“There would be no tech department without the MARMOTs,” Keith said. “We would not be able to support the tech environment without them.”

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