Erik Olsson
Erik Olsson designed this interactive campus map as part of ZotPortal, which includes digital tools to help students navigate through campus and their academic careers. Daniel A. Anderson / University Communications

New to UC Irvine? Feeling lost? Erik Olsson understands.

“I remember coming to campus with a map in my hand and being overwhelmed by all the buildings. I was late for everything that first week because I couldn’t find my classes,” says Olsson, who began studying information & computer sciences at UCI in 2001.

Now he works to save the next generation of Anteaters from that fate. As a software architect in Student Affairs Information Technology, Olsson designs digital tools to help students navigate the campus, as well as the academic and administrative labyrinths.

At first glance, Olsson’s interactive campus map might look like any other colorful online guide. But there’s much more “under the hood,” he says.

“The absolute coolest thing is that students can plot out their course schedules on the dynamic map, with buildings numbered in the order of their classes,” Olsson says. “It also shows the nearest food facilities and shuttle stops.”

The map is just one component of Olsson’s larger project — ZotPortal, which he describes as “a Web site that’s a central place for students to do all their campus business. It’s like iGoogle or My Yahoo for UCI.”

Students can access financial aid information, admission status, courses, textbook requirements, Electronic Educational Environment, Facebook accounts and personal task lists via ZotPortal, and customize it with tabs, news feeds and colors. “We get lots of ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ at demos when we point out that you can even change it to pink,” says Olsson.

He also revamped UCI’s New Student Checklist. Previously, incoming students received a 30-page document of tasks to complete. But it was bulky and difficult to update. Now the checklist lives online, which is far more convenient and “green.”

The inspiration for these tools evolved from one of Olsson’s ICS technical writing classes. “We were asked: What would make life on campus a lot easier?” recalls Olsson. “Many of the ideas in the portal came from that class. Everything made an impact.”

He’s been putting those undergrad lessons to good use. “I’ve been in the computer business for more than 25 years,” says Kevin Ansel, strategic planning director for SAIT. “Erik is one of the best programmers I’ve ever worked with. On top of his invaluable skills and ideas, he’s a good person and a pleasure to have on the team.”

Olsson balances his first love — programming — with theater and travel (often without an itinerary). In fact, the self-described “raging drama geek” fulfilled a longtime dream while studying abroad: performing “A Streetcar Named Desire” — in Swedish, which he speaks fluently.

Nowadays, Olsson doesn’t get the chance to perform much, though his acting skills come in handy for his many ZotPortal presentations. “I have zero stage fright,” he says.

Ultimately, making life easier for others is what motivates Olsson. “Student Affairs is a department that’s dedicated to students,” he says. “It’s great because that’s why we’re all here: We’re here for students.”