Category Archives: Technology

Telling the Student Affairs Story: Answering Big Questions with Big Data

  • Adam Cebulski, Assistant Vice President and Chief of Staff, Southern Methodist University
  • Sara Ousby, Director, Student Affairs Assessment, University of North Texas


  • To discuss trends in big data and the implications for higher ed
  • ID strategies for building data warehouses & analyzing data sets
  • Share successes and challenges
  • Story telling
  • Strategies

Landscape of Big Data

3Vs: variety (lots of kinds of data); volume (more info than we know what to do with); velocity (collecting data at a higher rate than ever before).

There are tons of software packages that “do” big data, but buying software is not going to answer your problem! Big data translates into decision making through different processes, and that’s what we’re going to talk about.


Stories are far better at conveying what your data says than just the data itself. NASPA’s analytics study from 2017 identifies the following entry points for big data for predictive analytics: pre-enrollment > academics > motivation & self-efficacy > use of support services > student engagement

Stories are just data with soul. Stories cross the barriers of time, past, present and future, and allow us to experience the similarities between ourselves and through others, real and imagined.

Create a data story

Data + Narrative + Visuals

Case Study: SMU

We have no centralized data system, and we’re a Peoplesoft campus. We centralized OIT and brought on a new CIO from University of Illinois. We have a large Greek population and we experienced 315% increase in AOD offenses in one academic year. We introduced a number of programs and interventions to address this challenge.

  • Why the large increase?
  • Who is most at risk
  • How and when to intervene?
  • Campus partners: IR, OIT
  • Data identification

We’re a Maxient campus, so we did a lot of ETL (extract, transform and load) processes to make this work from a technical perspective., Maxient offers no APIs.

We built a BEAM model: Business Event Analysis & Modeling

  • Customer focused
  • Flexible design
  • Report neutral
  • Prevents rework
  • Saves time

Goal was to build a data warehouse to assist with our analysis and reporting. We started in 2017 and plan to launch in the next week with a dashboard as part of phase one. We needed to hire a data architect and data visualizer: these were university hires that “live” in OIT. At $125K each, these are not cheap resources (but they are an excellent investment).

A BEAM table consists of events and then we think about related events, i.e. sports game, finals, etc. that could be related. At the top we consider a range of other items associated with the charge/sanction, i.e. weather, did we win the game, what class level is the student, etc. We even pull in data about the students, such as if their parents are wealthy donors. This allows us to create a “star schema” which creates a comprehensive picture of the issue. Some of the criteria allow us to set a ranking for each of the events, which in turn allows us to prioritize items. One of the data points is which offices are responsible for addressing the issues. We started with 100, but grew to 279 unique variables that could be associated with a particular conduct case.

These variables allow us to build dashboards that rationalize the data for our staff (intervention or otherwise). The vast majority of people in the system were actually recruits. It’s mostly 1st and 2nd years that get caught up in our system. We were able to change policy immediately based on the insights our system provides.

Case Study: University of North Texas

We are 38,000 students in the DFW metroplex. We are minority majority, public tier one institution. 1st year residential requirement. Majority live in Denton County.

Our Questions

  • What are the differences in retention for students who are engaged on campus?
  • What are the differences in GPA for students who are engaged on campus?
  • Campus partners: Data analytics & IR, IT shared serices
  • Data Collection

We are going to pull card swipe data into our system soon! We’re going through the data dictionary of card swipes now, primarily using Excel and lots of pivot tables. We’re looking right now at correlation information with respect to retention.

We’ve had a lot of growth in card swipe usage. We have 220,000 card swipes into our student recreation center, and we plan to pull in the Career Center’s info next. There does appear to be a difference in retention of card swipers over non card swipers (81.18% vs. 64.02%).

Telling our story and making decisons

  • Focus on completion
  • 1st year students are those leaving at the greatest rates
  • Most impact on FTIC
  • Higher impact on men

Q: Are you planning an ROI analysis?

AC: We quantified every action with a dollar value. Our interventions have already saved over a million dollars so far. We swipe for EVERYTHING (we use CampusLabs).

Q: What does your data cleaning process look like?

AC: it’s awful! And, it’s ongoing. We’ve had to create many transformation tables, and we had a lot of silo’ed data that needed work.

SA: your data dictionary will go a long way in solving this challenge.

Q: are card swipes weighted equally?

SA: yes (for now). But we’re looking at this. Card swiping is now universal across the campus.

AC: we tie our NSSE and use ID Link to tie our data together.

Emerging Approaches to acquire and best leverage student feedback


  • Jill Marchick, Vice President, Consumer Insights, Aramark
  • Malinda Sanna, Founder and President, Spark Ideas, LLC

We developed a platform to provide “just in time” communications with students that we share with Aramark to improve customer support.


  • What is LookLook?
  • Why traditional methods of research fail with GenZ
  • The methodology in action: case studey
  • In Sum

What is LookLook?

  • It’s a chat tool that allows us to view actual behavior, including shopping, consuming, socializing.
  • Moderators chat 1-on-1 with people and exchange visuals and videos during the course of their normal day or night, creating a rich set of data and observations.
  • Our philosophy: complete transparency

What we use it for

“Mobile ethnography” allow us to track a day in the life

  • Food journals/diaries
  • Closets, and pantry choices
  • Shopper insights in-the-moment
  • Digital behavior and SoMe usage
  • Exchanges about creative materials

Participants download the app and then track what they do and how they interact with the products/services you’re tracking. We pay the students on average about $150 for their opinions.

Why Traditional Research Methods Fail with GenZ

  • Today’s youth are highly visual
  • We want to answer the question of “WHY” a student feels a certain way about what we’re measuring
  • Focus groups rely on verbal discussion and reporting on one’s behavior
  • College students want full, individual expression
  • Authenticity is everything
  • Dynamic of texting is an instantly intimate virtual confessional

What do we measure?

  • Overall campus culture
  • What is the rhythm of a normal day?
  • What’s not working
  • Where are they eating off-campus and why?
  • What do they love?
  • What pie in the sky ideas do they have for innovation?
  • Where are they dawn for community on campus and why?

We aim to have 15-20 students per campus, 50% freshmen, 50% non-freshmen. We work with Business and Communications departments and student clubs.

Case Study: XYZ University

We creaet a word cloud based on answers to participants’ thoughts on “what words come to mind when thinking about this university?”

  • We do a QHCP analysis (not clear what this means, I’m not a marketer, haha)
  • We also do a SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats)
  • Dining brings students together
  • We look at what’s working on a campus
  • Shared a bunch of observations and recommendations for the campus in question.

Six strategies to build loyalty and interest

  1. Create a hub of food authority right on campus
  2. Step up vegan sophistication
  3. Make ethnic more authentic, less “generic”
  4. Create an oasis of serenity for recharging
  5. Nourish the Netflix occasion
  6. Consider making one property 24/7

Four principles of emerging methods of talking to GenZ

  • Make it easy for them to express themselves
  • Create a safe space where they can be candid
  • Ask For their ideas
  • Give them visual tools

Collegiate Esports: The Biggest World You’ve Never Heard Of


  • Eugene Frier, Texas Wesleyan University
  • Kathy Chiang, Arena Coordinator, University of California, Irvine

“Esports have grown WAY beyond “kids playing video games in the basement while drinking Mountain Dew and eating Cheetos.” The events are geeing bigger and bigger; the industry is becoming more professional; and audience and revenue growth are big and growing fast. Brand are involved in a big way: sports teams, broadcast media, mainstream brands, and Esports teams all field competitive Esports teams. What’s still “kind of weird” to some of us is normal for our students.

Timeline: student organizations > independent leagues > developer leagues > varsity programs

Origins – Community

  • Student clubs: independent, grassroots; unofficial support from developers
  • Collegiate Starleague (CSL): founded in 2009; modeled after South Korea’s StarCraft ProLeague

Origins – Developers

  • TESPA: founded in 2012, acquired by Blizzard in 2013, heroes of the dorm 2015
  • College League of Legends: NACC in 2015, uLOL in 2016, College League of Legends in 2017.

Origins – Colleges & Universities

  • Creation of varsity programs: started in 2014; Three active in 2015, six active in 2016, 27 active in 2017

Current Day Colegiate Esports

It’s a Multi-Layered Ecosystem

  • Student orgs: focused on member development; some of the biggest and most well-funded orgs on campus
  • Varsity programs: 100+ programs in 2018, often built like athletic teams. Scholarships range from a couple thousand per year to full-ride.
  • Twitch student: huge advocate for student voices; pathways to create and monetize streams.
  • Collegiate leagues: 3rd party and developer/publisher leagues; advocates for students, varsity programs; competitive league + support infrastructure.
  • Scholarships and prize winnings.

Student-led vs. Varsity

UCI case study: 2011-2019: LoL pushed the boundaries of what we could do at a university. Top two accomplishments: world-viewing party in 2013 (a highly social event – over 800 attendees at our first event, then 1,800 at our next one!); we expanded into an umbrella organization that ended up being the largest group on campus. We currently give scholarships for League of Legends and Overwatch.

Texas Wesleyan University case study 2017-2019: what can we do to stay relevant and competitive and engage with students? I spoke with over a dozen universities and companies to figure out what we could do. After speaking with Athletics, we realized it would fit better into Student Affairs programming. We based it on the three pillars of Competition, Creation, Community. What made it land with senior administration was how this program connects with “the murky middle,” or students who don’t fit into traditional modes of student engagement. This program can be the “hook” for students who aren’t connecting in other areas. Most of our students do a lot more than gaming!

Benefits to Current Generation

  • Old expectations: local, segmented (age, gender, region), static, trusting in authority.
  • New expectations: global, segmented by ability, dynamic, democratic.

More Opportunities

  • Involvement beyond competition: production, content creation, shoutcasting, management, digital marketing, event planning
  • Soft skill development
  • Meaningful involvement for students who don’t always see their interests represented on campus


  • College esports are here
  • Meet expectations of a digital age
  • Opportunity to engage with students
  • Growth

Next Gen vpsa


  • Josie Ahlquist, Research Associate and Instructor, Florida State University, @josieahlquist,
  • Dr. Ed Cabellon, Vice President for Student Services and Enrollment Management, Bristol Community College, @dredcabellon,
  • Mordecai Brownlee, Vice President of Student Success, St. Philip’s College, @ItsDrMordecai
  • Angela Batista, Vice President of Student Affairs and Institutional Diversity and Inclusion, Champlain College, @drangelabatista
  • Dr. Tim Miller, @JMUTimMiller


This is my first session of the 2019 NASPA conference, and I’m well-rested and ready to learn! When I saw the title “Next Gen VPSA,” I knew I needed to attend this session 🙂 Today’s agenda: facilitated discussion around ” purpose-driven digital leadership.” Any omissions or errors are mine.

Change: digital leaders accept and embrace change, calling on others to fill knowledge and skills gaps with technology.

Connection: digital engagement for campus leaders is built around relationships for genuine community building

Personalization: A holistic approach humanizes both a leaders’ campus position and their use of social media tools.

Strategy: campus leaders need to have a clear, yet flexible strategy that aligns their values and personality, as well as university objectives.

Legacy: the theory, practice, and pedagogy of leadership can be applied in digital context to create meaning, build community and leaves a legacy.

Question 1: How do you define “Next Gen VPSA?”

MB: more courses are moving online. SoMe is important for providing a level of representation of who you are and what your institution is about. It’s going to be a norm soon.

EC: I’m an early adopter and my research was around use of SoMe and tech by leaders in higher ed. When I became a VP nine months ago, I thought I’d be able to continue using SoMe the way I’d always used it…that came to a screeching halt! I’ve had to rethink how and why I use SoMe. It really helps when your president and board “get it.” I’m using MailChimp to help measure staff and student interest.

AB: being intentional and strategic is important. We need to be there for our staff and we need to keep learning. Our communication tools are most useful when we’re intentional about HOW we use them. Using it to share your true self is important because it appears in how you “show up.” I was able to respond to a student recently who had a less than ideal experience who said the campus did not care about students of color. Because I was on SoMe, I was able to respond directly to that student’s post.

MB: we’re able to respond in an immediate way…our students want to hear from us. These are opportunities for us to share that we see our students’ concerns, we hear our students’ concerns, and we care about them.

How do you balance your personal and professional accounts?

EC: I’m in a state role now. Because my FB account is intertwined with my personal life, I had to separate things. I do have an assistant that helps me out with things, but it’s still a lot of work to have multiple accounts.

JA: FB and Instagram allow you to have “branded pages” which are underneath the main institutional account.

AB: I intermingle my personal stuff with my professional stuff. I often will share articles, but that does not necessarily mean that I endorse them. If you’re going to do a branded page, make sure that it actually has value.

MB: make sure your SoMe has purpose! Really look at it! You need to evaluate what you’re looking at…ALL of it. You’re never “off” as a VPSA. SoMe is not a place to rant and rave.

EC: if you’re on Twitter, have a look at what lists you’re on. This is a good measurement of how people view you online.

MB: You need to have purpose behind your presence. You also need to be aware of what kind of interaction opportunities each platform presents. Some do not allow you to control things beyond the initial post. I am not an endorser.

JA: Instagram stories are the biggest ROI for younger people. Different intents for different platforms.

How much time do you spend on your SoMe?

TM: I have an assistant who I’ve given all my favorite books, and she provide motivational quotes M-Th, and I do things on Friday. I spend about an hour a day on mine.

AB: I spend most of my time on FB. I post at every event that I go to on campus, which helps with the student voice. Students who want me to amplify their voice, I ask them to tag me so that I can help them. It’s not about quantity, it’s about intent. It’s my way to build relationships.

MB: I spend less than 30 minutes a day on average. I check at the end of the day for sure.

How do you intentionally connect with staff and students?

AB: I don’t invite my staff to connect with me. If someone wants to connect, I really think about what that person wants from the relationship.

MB: if you’re a VP or senior student affairs officer, you should definitely have a conversation with your PR department. Be prepared to review your own personal material aligns with that of your institution.

How do you interact with your leadership team?

EC: Bring data to the table. Pick a platform that works best for your institution…even if it’s just one thing.

MB: I’m the only member of my cabinet that has a SoMe presence. You need to understand your campus culture…I push my president to be engaged with video and SoMe pictures.

AB: most of my colleagues are on SoMe, and they are growing their presence as a result of the posts that I’m making. In my opinion, it’s important to keep your opinions to yourself.

TM: I was the first on my cabinet to be on SoMe. Our PR team had an intervention with me. Students will pull you into very specific concerns…SoMe back-and-forth isn’t the place to resolve their concerns. However, I DO tell the students that I will meet with them individually to resolve their concerns.

Reimagining IT: Transforming IT in Service to the 21st-Century University


  • Michael Kubit, VP and CIO, The Pennsylvania State University
  • Jennifer Stedelin, Senior Director for Strategic Operations, The Pennsylvania State University

Michael Kubit and Jennifer Stedelin



  • a

The Case(s) for Change

Changing Landscape: students of the future, financial trends (reduction/elimination of state funding), faculty trends (retirements), research funding trends, future of learning.

  1. Penn State deserves a world-class IT org commensurate with its status as a leading R1 institution.
  2. IT must reinvent its funding model and business processes to adapt to financial and demographic realities.
  3. The speed of change in the current Fourth Industrial Revolution is disrupting every industry.
  4. The IT workforce must grow and transform to keep pace with changes in society, education and society
  5. Penn State data and research are more vulnerable than ever, due to the frequency and scope of cyber threats.
  6. We have a fiduciary responsibility to fully optimize and invest in a cohesive strategy for IT services and support.

Key Issue: Innovation in face of growing financial strain

Cannot fund innovation with new dollars, so we need to think about ways to use the university’s funding more wisely. One way we do that is to think about moving IT from a provider to an enabler. We had a faculty member come in to share what IT means to her as a professor: she uses 35 apps in her classroom that the university does not provide or support. IT needs to have a new set of (mostly) soft skills that we need to bring to the fore to support our staff, faculty and students.

Aligning to Institutional Mission

The majority of our work is about changing lives and making the world a better place. How do we at IT professionals share how we contribute to these goals? We’re a differentiator and allow the institution do things with IT other organizations cannot do yet. Penn State has nearly 2,000 IT pros across 80 IT orgs. As a result of this size and spread, we’re over-invested in commodity IT. We had a large number of focus groups which found that a) people liked their local tech staff and b) recognized the value of being connected with central IT, and c) discovered that we have no consistent approach on funding of IT across the institution.

“Bright Spots” are areas of the organization that are doing things very well, that we’d like to see spread and become a part of how we do things day in and day out. Our rollout of O365 allowed us to consolidate 36 e-mail systems into one. This project had three components which led to success: executive support; advisory groups consisting of faculty, staff, and leadership; and a community of IT pros engaged in the project throughout…including a number of volunteers from across the university that came together as a community to migrate their departments. Those 36 email systems were run by the equivalent of 32 FTEs, and the new system is run by 5 FTEs, at an avoidance cost savings of $600K/year to the university.


You may have noticed we are avoiding the issue of centralization; our efforts are more about using institutional resources more effectively (i.e. running commodity hardware is not a strategic benefit to the university).

Vision: align, optimize, create.

How do we become an IT organization that’s all about people? We’ve tried to think about the people that we serve; we’re trying to embrace a culture of service to people; and that we’re all in this together…everyone has a role, everyone has a share in the responsibility. It’s a journey, not a destination.

This plan needs to be navigated through the university relationship by relationship, to help folk understand what changes mean to them. Quick wins can demonstrate what’s possible; an IT summit shared what we’re planning with our stakeholders across the university and we asked for their feedback. We’ve committed to open communication as much as possible: I conduct a Zoom seminar every month that allows participants to ask questions directly.

We want to leapfrog rather than remediate wherever possible.

Question: what are the top initiatives? We’re building out a planning process to go in-depth with some of our units (volunteer units first). We want to discover the services they deliver, the faculty and staff they serve, their spend, etc. We’re writing up discovery methodologies to help facilitate this process. Identification of commodity IT services is a big part of this.

Question: how does central IT staff respond to this process? We’re not centralizing, but rationalizing processes across the organization. Many de-centralized organizations are in fact doing some processes better than our central IT unit. We want to emphasize that these changes are going to impact the entire organization.