• Special Feature / Interview
  • 06.16.20

Crossing the Rubicon of Reaccreditation: Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute

  • by Stephan C. Cooley, AIR Project Analyst for Research and Initiatives

eAIR had an opportunity to speak with Edward Hummingbird, Director of Institutional Research, Effectiveness and Planning at the Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute (SIPI). Read on for insights on regaining accreditation and what artistic expression can teach us about the essential role of curiosity in meaningful continuous improvement. 

eAIR: Please share a bit about SIPI and what distinguishes it fromEdwardH other institutions.

The Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute (SIPI) is a national community college for Native American and Alaska Native students. It is a federal institution, operating under the Bureau of Indian Education, which is part of the U.S. Department of the Interior. All students are registered members of federally recognized tribes.

eAIR: What drew you to SIPI, and what is your role at the institution?

I arrived at SIPI in 2011 after the school’s accreditation was withdrawn from the Higher Learning Commission. This was my greatest motivation for coming to SIPI because regaining lost accreditation is largely unheard of. My immediate goal was to establish formal systems for institutional research and effectiveness and ensure that processes, such as assessment, were formally linked to broader institutional planning. My role has since expanded to developing and overseeing a data-informed student success framework.

eAIR: What was the impact of reaccreditation on the collection and use of data for institutional effectiveness and student success?

Accreditation is ultimately an indication that the college aligns resources to support its mission in a responsible manner, today and into the future. The accreditation process requires us to demonstrate that we’re achieving this, with evidence. Having a culture of evidence doesn’t just mean that we have a lot of data or toss them around frequently. It means that we systematically use data to support all key decision-making processes. The process of “finding our way” towards regaining accreditation required us to understand how to link data to our ability to achieve our mission. For instance, we have to ask ourselves, “How can we prove that we’re meeting our mission?” To answer this, we have to identify key values. To demonstrate that we are achieving these values, we must be able to identify specific processes, and from there we can identify what data elements are used. When we map this out, we see very clearly how various data indicators and processes define how we’re achieving our values, which in turn, defines how we’re achieving our mission. The accreditation process really helped us understand how data can show where we’re contributing to meeting our mission, and where we are missing the mark.

eAIR: What have you learned that might help others just starting out in their roles?

I encourage all institutional researchers to reach out to their compatriots at other colleges. Networking is really important, especially for small offices. Over the years, I’ve built a strong network of IR/IE professionals who are highly skilled in specific areas, such as non-academic assessment, benchmarking, survey design, forecasting, and data-informed student success planning and programming. Their “outside” perspectives, insights, and technical guidance have proven immensely helpful.

eAIR: I understand that you are an artist. What place does art hold in your life? How does it inform your work?

Art is not only a release for me, but a different way of looking at the world. Art is creative expression, which has me always asking questions. As a Cherokee artist, I’m not just interested in painting things like deer (for instance), but asking myself, “What does a deer really mean or represent to the Cherokees?” It makes me really think less about an object, and more about the inexorable relationship between Cherokees and our native fauna. This always reminds me of Albert Einstein’s famous quotation “The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.” This is true in the world of art and in the world of education. As institutional researchers, we want to teach our colleges to take numbers and turn them into ideas and insights and take those insights and turn them into innovations. Curiosity and questions are really at the heart of meaningful continuous improvement.