AIR Membership Indicates Commitment to IR Profession

Gayle Fink is Assistant Vice President for Institutional Effectiveness, Bowie State University

eAIR: The Statement of Aspirational Practice for Institutional Research talks about "Activating Data-Informed Faculty Decision Making." How is Bowie State sharing data with faculty in a way that informs their decision-making?

GayleFink.jpgThe Statement of Aspirational Practice encourages IR professionals to have an expanded view of "Decision Makers." In addition to senior leadership, the Statement suggests that students, faculty, and staff are integral and necessary decision makers as institutions focus on student success.

Bowie State University's Office of Planning, Analysis and Accountability (OPAA) has a rich history of supporting faculty and academic departments with aggregated program level data i.e. enrollment, degree, course and credit hours generated. One future goal of the office is to move away from our "manual report" generation to one that pushes out reports electronically.

Over the past five years, OPAA has become more deliberate in establishing deeper research projects with faculty including an examination of summer bridge programs, placement testing and developmental education, and gate-keeper courses. These studies linked course outcomes (grades in most cases) with demographic/prerequisite course performance to performance in subsequent courses. These and future studies support strategic goals of the university.

This fall, OPAA has kicked off its work with the Predictive Analytics Report Framework (PAR) by inviting all academic department chairs to the overview of the data and tools. The department chairs were very interested in the heat map that shows the student flow through the major. In early 2017, OPAA is going to be training departmental assessment coordinators in PAR so that they can couple their programmatic assessment work with PAR data. It is anticipated that the combination of analytics and programmatic student learning outcomes assessment will increase student success and completion.

I am very proud of OPAA's ability to be responsive to faculty requests with only three staff. We have worked hard to create efficiencies in mandatory reporting to allow us to do the value-added analysis to support decision making.

eAIR: As an IR veteran, what is the most important thing you wish you had known when you first entered the field?

Wow – let me think about this – it's challenging going back 20+ years!

What is the one facet of IR work that I wished I had known about when first entering the field? I think it is that soft skills matter just as much as hard skills early in your career. Technical skills such as statistics, experience with software packages, and demonstrating critical thinking are some key attributes that I would look for in hiring entry level positions. However, it is emotional intelligence and self-awareness that enable early professionals to gain more responsibility in their current position and to obtain positions with more responsibility. Being aware of how you work with other people and how you approach life and work makes just as much impact in the workplace as your ability to produce actionable information. Something as simple as realizing how others "hear" what you are saying can help you refine your communication, teamwork, and interpersonal relationship skills.

eAIR: What is the best software investment your department has made in the last three years (e.g. Tableau, etc.,) and what new software or tool could you not live without?

Exciting additions to our suite of IR office technology include a surveying tool building block for our LMS to more efficiently administer end of term course evaluations, a low-cost data dashboard/visualization tool enabling the office to test the dashboard waters with institutional leadership and academic department chairs, and participating with other University System of Maryland institutions in an analytics consortium. My IR office has been fortunate to leverage funding from other areas to support the investment in new software. Without cross-unit cooperation, IR would be unable to facilitate continued progress for our institution's level of data maturity.

eAIR: How would you convey the value of AIR membership to someone who is not a current member?

From a hiring perspective, AIR membership is an indicator of commitment to the profession of institutional research. Noting AIR membership on a resume typically demonstrates that an applicant has attended a Forum and has been exposed to tools, techniques, and issues that reflect various perspectives. Being an AIR member provides an easy opportunity to talk about the shared experiences during an interview. From a personal perspective, you cannot put an exact ROI calculation on AIR membership – it opens doors to resources, volunteering, educational opportunities, and networking with colleagues from all over the world. My 20-year involvement in this community of IR professionals has been one of the most rewarding experiences in my life.




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