Shawn Flaningam Behind the Screens: Campus Wi-Fi from 2010 to today

There are only a few things Shawn Flaningam has never experienced, and being a NASCAR firefighter is not one of them. Neither is living on a horse farm, being part of the Air Force, working with the Champaign County Sheriff’s Department, nor having a day job as a Technology Services Wi-Fi Network Engineer. 

Since joining the university 17 years ago as an Infrastructure Installation and Maintenance Tech, then joining the Tech Services Wi-Fi office in 2010, Shawn has seen—and been a part of—the immense growth of the Wi-Fi network on our campus over the past decades. 

What does a Wi-Fi Network Engineer do at Tech Services?

An image of Shawn and his wife, Christine, smiling in sunglasses
Shawn and his wife, Christine

As Wi-Fi Network Engineer, I am essentially a Wi-Fi designer for Tech Services. I design and support the Wi-Fi in the U of I buildings on and off our campus. Essentially, I take prints and examine the material, construction, and design of the building. From there, I decide where the Access Points (APs), or wireless routers, should go for the best, most stable usage. The territory I cover includes downtown Chicago all the way to the Illinois Extension 5,000acre cattle farm, Dixon Springs Agricultural Center.

How has your role as a Wi-Fi Network Engineer benefitted campus?

My role has played a large part in growing the Wi-Fi network as the Wi-Fi needs of the staff, faculty, and students have changed. When I first started working with the Wi-Fi office, we had roughly 500 APs. Now, we have over 13,000. We used to only have Wi-Fi access in the main parts of the building, but we’ve expanded to cover classrooms, conference rooms, full buildings, and now green spaces. 

What’s the best thing about your current role?

It’s really interesting to work with different departments on campus, because I get to learn how each department uses Wi-Fi in different ways. For example, I learned how Wi-Fi was used by ACES to operate a farmer-less tractor on the south farms. I also saw how the RIPE Greenhouse now uses Wi-Fi to control its 200+ lights in the building for research. And now, of course, I see students using Wi-Fi to better their experiences in the dorms and using it to game but also connect gaming stations, TVs, and other devices. 

What do you feel like has been one of your biggest accomplishments in this role?

One of the biggest accomplishments has been over time, changing the way we design the Wi-Fi in buildings to bring the most robust network in order to support the campus needs. Wi-Fi has changed from 2.4 GHz to 5GHz and now we’re slowly rolling out 6GHz onto campus. 

What did you study in college or what was your favorite subject in school and why?

I studied Criminal Justice at Parkland. When I was in high school, the Champaign County Sheriff’s department had an explorer post for high school students that were interested in law enforcement. During my time in the explorer post, I enjoyed working with the community, so I decided to pursue criminal justice. I ended up going to the Air Force for a year, and came home on an Honorable Medical Discharge 

Close-up image of Shawn standing by a horse farm, showing where he takes care of horses now.
Where Shawn takes care of horses now

Who is one person you’d want to share a meal with, and why?

I would eat with George Strait, my favorite musical artist. I was raised on his music and in general, his way of life. George Strait enjoyed the simple life: going to rodeos and living on a horse farm. I was also raised in Northeast Urbana on a horse farm. 

Fun fact about yourself?

I am a fire fighter for NASCAR. I liked what I saw of law enforcement, but I liked being a fire fighter more – it was more of a rush. I was on Eastern Prairie Vol. Fire Dept for 15 years. When they opened Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, they sent out info to local departments needing area firefighters, and that’s when I joined. 

“Behind the Screens” is a series of stories highlighting a different member of Technology Services each month so that you can get to know who we are and what we do for our university.