Fostering a Spirit of Exploration in IR

​Ryan Cherland is Assistant Vice Chancellor for Institutional Research and Decision Support at University of California, Irvine. He describes his commitment to exploring innovative uses of data as an integral component in his role of decision support.  

Interview by Leah Ewing Ross 


eAIR: Exploring innovative uses of data takes time. How do you make time for those efforts in light of your office’s other responsibilities and deadline-driven commitments? 

The exploration of looking at things in a new way is what makes the job fun. You have to find ways to make that time available while you work on all of the other required reporting duties. We all aim to hire good people, so it is key to give them the data access, tools, and support to get all the work done. What you focus on is finding efficiencies and methods to streamline the standard reporting so that it takes less of everyone’s time, and in turn, opens up time to try new options in exploring the important questions in different ways. Sometimes you find you cannot do it all when you want to, and so you go about planning to reach for that “exploratory brass ring” with the next turn of the reporting carousel.  

eAIR: What do you do to instill a spirit of exploration in your office? 

I work to encourage new thoughts and ideas by being supportive of the time and the effort that is required. I make sure we invest in training, but I also invest in collaborative time to share insights and interesting approaches, and to demonstrate more expedient ways of getting the regular work done as we improve.  

eAIR: When you see trends you would like to explore, what guides your inquiries?  

It ends up being a combination of a variety of factors. You explore those items that are commonly looked at in the literature, with an idea about the characteristics of your student population that might make the campus trend one direction or another. Those student population characteristics are influenced by the population trends in the state and, in the case of my university, by the entrance requirements established by the UC system as part of the California Master Plan. And in all of this, you maintain on-going conversations with individuals who are connected to the area of study to see if they have ideas or thoughts about issues that might be influencing the trends that are appearing. 

eAIR: How does the “decision support” part of your title frame your work as an Assistant Vice Chancellor and the work of the Office of IR overall? 

Every area on campus is making decisions every day. I view my role as one that supports the development of a decision-support framework that actively pursues the collection and appropriate distribution of data and information across a wide range of subject areas, not just the standard ones of students, staff, and expenditures; we need to work to bring these and other items together to inform all levels of decision-makers at our institution. We are just at the beginning stages of this approach at UC Irvine, but that is why they hired me over a year and a half ago. If I do my job right, the system will provide information to inform decisions from the office manager levels to the executive administrator levels to help improve our efforts in teaching, research, and service.    

eAIR: What’s the most fun aspect of your work? 

Bringing the people and the data together needed to inform leadership around a pressing issue, and seeing those efforts inform new approaches on the campus. 

eAIR: If you had an opportunity to go on the ultimate adventure of your choice, what would it be, and why? 

My ultimate adventure, and completely unlikely (which makes it so ultimate), would be to go into orbit at the International Space Station. I find scenic views inspiring and humbling, and I cannot imagine a better venue to take in a singular encompassing view of this wonderful world of ours.