A Parent Walks into an IR Office…

Shari Ellertson, Director of Institutional Research, and Nick Warcholak, Associate Director for Research, Office of Institutional Research, Boise State University recently had a surprise visit from an interested Boise State parent - Marty Mullholland. Their unique interaction follows.

 eAIR: What was your reaction when Marty came to see you?

Nick: I answered the door, and she said she wanted to talk about research at the university. I thought she meant faculty research so that her daughter could get involved. She said, “No, I meant institutional research.” So I was taken by surprise. She wanted to know how IR informs student success efforts and to what degree.

Shari: I also was surprised as we are more accustomed to directing traffic (or lost traffic)! Not many people just drop into our office to talk about data. She specifically wanted to know more about how retention and graduation rates are calculated. My initial instinct was to get her to the Vice Provost for Undergraduate Studies Office to talk about their work and what the university is doing to improve student success, but she was really interested in talking to the “data people” about what goes into the rates and how they’re calculated. Nick and I basically talked to her about the gory details of the calculations and the federal requirements. That level of detail resonated with her as she works in the data sciences field.

eAIR: As a parent, how did you know to go to the IR office?

Marty: I knew about the IR office after looking up data published by the office on the Boise State website. I’m a bit of a data geek, and I wanted to meet the people who could explain some of the Boise State stats and facts.

The day I visited the IR office I was filling in some spare time after moving my daughter into her room. (Yes - this means I was spending part of my first day as a ”Bronco Mom” locating the data people.) I decided to find out if staff were available and much to my delight, the IR staff (Nick and Shari) were in and available when I found their office.

eAIR: What were the main topics of conversation?

Nick: In addition to the retention and graduation rates, she wanted to know if the student success programs of the university are informed by the research done by our office. She had read some of the unpublished papers on our website and had a strong understanding of the work that’s been done here.

Shari: We specifically talked with her about our work on the campus’ Student Success Dashboard, which was built locally and informed by research conducted by our office. We also ended up talking about other analytics and how data systems sometimes aren’t very integrated.

Nick: And she understood our pain in terms of working across separate data systems.

Shari: It was nice to hear her ideas as well. Since she’s an IT expert and a parent, she definitely brings a unique perspective to the table. It was nice to hear that parents like Marty think about the data we produce and really value that the university makes data informed decisions.

eAIR: What were you hoping to learn?

Marty: I was hoping to learn more about the retention rates and graduation rates at Boise State, and in particular, what the outlook was for increases to both rates in the future. My daughter and I had visited Boise State during her senior year, and I had been given some information about factors affecting Boise State's six-year graduation rates, which seemed lower than some other schools. Now that my daughter was beginning her college journey, I wanted to see if I could learn more.

Backing up to the previous year, my daughter loved Boise State when we visited. She felt it was “her” school, pretty much from the moment she set foot on the campus. I thought that there were excellent support systems in place, and I could see that Boise's graduation rates and retention rates were on an upward trajectory, so I didn't balk further at her decision to attend. However, I was very interested in hearing directly from the experts to get a more accurate picture of the underlying issues. 

I learned about a variety of demographics and issues that affect Boise State experience and data. There are quite a few factors affecting their rates (I’ll skip the details here, but I enjoyed plunging in and discussing these) and I also appreciated the deeper dive into the data they are collecting and monitoring.

It was exciting to see the impact of program efforts now being reflected in the most recent data. Boise State is continuing to develop systems and supports that have shown to positively affect student success. It was wonderful to meet people who are not only committed to providing accurate information, but who clearly care about meeting and improving educational outcomes for students.

Shari and Nick then arranged for me to meet with the Vice Provost! I couldn’t believe it!

eAIR: How often do parents typically stop by?photo-for-shari-marty-interview.png

Nick: This is the first one in my nine years of working in the field of IR.

Shari: Me, too. This was a first, as evidenced by my Facebook post.

Nick: It was a good conversation. We also wanted to get her connected to how the university sees the initiatives around student success and how we contribute to those efforts.

Shari: We ended up talking with her for about 45 minutes and then we were able to connect with the Vice Provost. She came in with concerns and questions, and we hope she got to see many sides to the issues. I specifically appreciated that she came to us to get the “straight story” since one of our goals is to be a reliable and credible source of information.

Since our initial interaction, we have communicated via email. She wanted to know our most recent retention and graduation rates, and she also shared feedback with me about the university’s website. I’ve since passed her comments along to the university’s media manager who was very receptive to the feedback. Locally, we can do a better job presenting student success data on our IR website, and that’s another thing I took away from our conversation.

eAIR: How is your daughter doing so far, and how is she liking college?

Marty: My daughter is having a wonderful experience thus far. She loves her classes, she's run for office in her dorm, she's proud to be the female quarterback for her living community flag football team, and she has clearly embraced many things that Boise State has to offer. She's already met with an advisor and is looking ahead to next semester. I miss her terribly, but I know that she is thriving at Boise State.