Interview of Dr. Mihir

eAIR Special Features foster broad knowledge and appreciation of the diverse membership of AIR, and of the different professional contexts and activities in which members are engaged. The ideas and perspectives expressed in the interviews are not necessarily the opinions of AIR. 

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Dr. Mihir is the Director of Institutional Research in the Division of Institutional Effectiveness at Norwalk Community College in Connecticut. eAIR had the opportunity to interview him during his participation in the National Data Institute July 8-14, 2012, in Alexandria, Va.

Interview of Dr. Mihir by Leah Ewing Ross

eAIR: Please briefly describe your professional experience, including how you entered the field of institutional research, and what led to your current position at Norwalk Community College.

Prior to moving to the United States in 2002, I was in India, and had completed my first master’s degree. My father, an educator, wanted me to become a teacher and work for a school he attended. My intentions were different, but with a common cause. I wanted to grow professionally and experience the best that education has to offer so that I could bring more to the ones in need of my service. 

After finishing my M.S. in Integrated Sciences at Southeastern Louisiana University in 2004, I worked in the Office of Institutional Research at Nicholls State University. There, I was presented with the importance of data and the value of evidence-based and data-informed decision making in higher education, particularly through my involvement with and observation of the university accreditation process. I soon realized the significance of strategic and visionary leadership in efforts to integrate data, technology, and research to weigh policy decisions.

I returned to Southeastern Louisiana to pursue my Ed.D. in Educational Leadership, which I completed in 2011. My experience as a doctoral student gave me an opportunity to reaffirm my motives and strengthened my understanding and philosophy of education as well as my desire to serve its stakeholders. I needed a venue to invest my interests and to understand higher education at its core, which led me back to IR.

I accepted the position at Norwalk Community College with the realization that beyond serving as data collection agencies, IR offices play important roles in creating knowledge bases, making informed decisions, and inferring collective understandings of the institutions and the academic world.

eAIR: What led to your interest in attending the National Data Institute (NDI)?

I seek to broaden my understanding of existing datasets. Also, I want to develop a rich understanding of methodological and technological issues relevant to large-scale national datasets and use them for comparative analysis. NDI fosters educational motives and advantageously creates sustainable academic paths to implement strategies that tie together the missions of academic institutions and data. In addition, I wanted to use data thoroughly and purposefully. And, NDI provided hands-on training and mentoring as well as opportunities to collaborate with other IR professionals while developing an understanding of the national agenda on education.

eAIR: What did you appreciate most about NDI?

The NDI attendees were doctoral students, faculty members, IR practitioners, and international scholars—such a diversified sample. The conversations were interesting, encompassed different viewpoints, and presented varying challenges to the audience. The interactions with the National Science Foundation (NSF) and National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) mentors were very educational, and the discussions with doctoral students were inspiring. All in all, the Institute was very thought-provoking with so many perspectives and talents stirring the ideas, posing questions, and solving problems.

Worth mentioning are the conversations on educational values and the implications for equity, access, and affordability of education. Particularly valuable were the discussions on transformational and global pedagogies, multicultural education, race, ethnicity, and gender, and their relationships with academic achievement and the ways those relationships contribute to critical evaluation of the interplay and outcomes within educational paradigms. Such rich conversations help develop new conceptual frameworks through which impartial educational achievements are acknowledged across all students groups.

eAIR: Do you have any insights about working with large national data sources to share with IR colleagues?

Let’s clear some of the misconceptions here. Many of the national datasets are free. Whether descriptive or inferential, the datasets allow the user to run statistics or analysis on the web. I recommend using national datasets to extend, explore, and infer outcome measures that focus on educational trends, financial standings, workforce training, and accountability measures. Exploration of the data sources strengthens the intellectual capacity of IR to assess, to understand, to infer policies, and to better prepare and inform administrators and students of national trends.

You will find a wealth of data on the NSF and NCES websites. Read the documentation and be familiar with the statistical terminologies. Ask the right questions. Interpret data definitions correctly. If you would rather read excerpts and not worry about data and analyses, you are still well-served by what NSF and NCES publish. Much of the educational data are already collected and processed. Explore the information and educate yourself and the campuses you represent.                    

eAIR: How does your IR role fit with and inform your personal journey?

I believe in pursuing every opportunity to educate, excel, and empower myself and the people who rely on my expertise. Learning is an intuitive and life-long process, and I enjoy learning every day.

I relish my job and my personal life, equally. Professionally, I am more grounded now than ever. I discover new avenues in the IR job and it re-affirms my desire to closely observe and study the progressions. I am more self-effacing and act on the belief that "still waters run deep." IR is "the" place to see the "happenings" in education.

Personally, I love classical music. I love strolling through mountains and admiring the silence and the beauty of nature. We often visit historical places and small towns to relive the charming moments of history. Also, to satisfy my self-worth and the fact that I could not serve my community (a small village in southern India), I seek out and offer voluntary service in hospitals and charitable locations. I owe my progress and who I am to my parents, mentors, colleagues, and friends. I am a staff member eight hours a day. The rest of the time, I nourish myself with good friends and good thoughts, and try to enjoy my life. The fellowship of good people, friends, and mentors leaves a strong influence on our lives. Life is amazing beyond the quantitative and qualitative modes, and I take every opportunity to experience, learn, and to live in the "moments."