Campus News Campus Spotlight

Associate director finds ways to innovate

Debbie Tonks is the associate director of information technology for the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences. (Photo by Dorothy Kozlowski/UGA)

Debbie Tonks works with technology to improve learning

Debbie Tonks is here to help.

As the associate director of information technology for the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences, Tonks finds ways to use and improve technology to enhance the learning of students in the college.

Tonks received a bachelor’s degree in computer science from UGA before beginning to work at the university in 1995 as a computer services specialist.

“I have always enjoyed working with technology and math was my favorite subject,” Tonks said. “Computer science seemed like the perfect blend of my favorite things.”

She later transitioned to working with instructional technology when she earned a master’s in instructional design and development. Since then, she has worked to enrich the ways that technology can be used for education.

With her team, Tonks provides support for eLC for Franklin College, helping faculty and staff members if they have issues with the system. She also uses funding from the student technology fee to update the equipment in about 300 classrooms across campus.

“The most important part of the instructional technology team is keeping the classrooms up and running,” Tonks said. “People have a plan for what they’re going to do and when they go in the classroom, it needs to work.”

While maintaining the systems in place, Tonks also looks for places to improve upon. Before becoming the associate director for Franklin College, Tonks worked as a technology provider for the English department. By the time she’d shifted roles, the department was changed drastically.

“When I first got to the English department there were no projectors, speakers or computers in the classrooms,” she said. “By the time I left, all but two of the classrooms had technology in them.”

Her drive to innovate was crucial during the COVID-19 pandemic. None of the classrooms for Franklin College had cameras or microphones prior to the fall semester of 2020. Within two months, she and her team installed the necessary equipment. Even after the pandemic, professors in Franklin College are now able to virtually bring in guest speakers to enhance their lessons.

“We’ve been doing online learning, but it really helped people understand what could be done,” Tonks said.

For Tonks, the best way to be innovative is by listening.

“Anything innovative that we do is really just from listening to what people need and trying to figure out the best way to get it done,” Tonks said. “There are all these different ideas out there, and some of them we can’t do because we can’t afford it. We listen then go back and figure out what we can do.”

Tonks’ passion for innovation goes hand in hand with her willingness to help others. From helping students to collaborating with co-workers, Tonks enjoys working with people.

“I would say my favorite part of my job is working with others,” Tonks said. “Anytime I can help a student in one of the classrooms, it’s wonderful.”

Outside of work, Tonks enjoys playing tennis. She grew up watching tennis and decided to learn how to play when she was 31. Through tennis, Tonks has formed lasting friendships.

“I joined a team here in Athens that was part of a local league and have been playing ever since,” Tonks said. “I have met some of my best friends through tennis here in Athens and I am getting exercise while having fun.”

Her dedication to helping others led her to volunteering with the East Athens Tennis Center, where she has given tennis lessons since 2022.

When she’s not working or playing tennis, Tonks enjoys spending time with her husband and two kids.

In everything that she does, Tonks makes sure that the mission of helping others is forefront.

“I like to make sure that people have what they need,” Tonks said. “If there’s something that I can do to help, I’m going to do just that.”