At Growing Summit, Data Science Drives Student Success

The University’s second annual Advanced Analytics Summit, which took place on Thursday, Oct. 17, and Friday, Oct. 18, attracted more registrants from more institutions than last year, but the growth in attendance wasn’t the only way the event changed.

“The conversation is at a different level,” said Andrew Hannah, adjunct professor and executive-in-residence at Pitt Business. Hannah — who founded Othot, a predictive and prescriptive analytics company — thought the difference striking.

“Where there were a lot of people who came together to hear what people were doing differently, what I think we’ll see is a focus on a platform as opposed to individual issues,” he said. “The value of hearing about student success is a really strong theme.”

‘An engine for social mobility and progress’

Student success was a key point in opening remarks from Provost and Senior Vice Chancellor Ann E. Cudd, who noted it as a common goal among the 124 registrants from 39 institutions.

“We want our students to find their purpose so they can contribute to our collective economic and civic well-being. We also want to be able to enable our students to build a global network of colleagues, of friends and collaborators so they can achieve their goals,” Cudd told the audience.

She also thanked Stephen Wisniewski, vice provost for data and information, for organizing the event: “It’s through his leadership that this summit has had immediate national impact, ensuring that the dialogues on vital topics around data analytics continue to advance.”

First and foremost is the need to make the best decisions possible to optimize the quality of students’ diverse educational opportunities. “Higher education, after all, is meant to be an engine of social mobility and progress,” she said.

When to act

Amelia Parnell, vice president for research and policy at NASPA – Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education, presented the summit’s keynote. A membership-based organization, NASPA provides professionals in the student life and student affairs fields with professional development opportunities, such as online programming and networking.

Parnell highlighted current challenges in analytics work, including managing risk and scaling solutions. The biggest question, she said, is when to act based on data.

There may not be an easy answer, but the Advanced Analytics Summit affords thought leaders from institutions across the world an opportunity to discuss the problem and explore solutions.

Parnell believed one of the most effective and promising uses for data science is increasing examinations of students’ ability to afford college — which she said Pitt is doing well. “With Pitt being a more selective institution, it’s understood that students are prepared, so I think the work [Cudd] mentioned to meet students’ financial needs is the way to go.”

  • “Innovation and collaboration and the ability to confront complex issues becomes more important than ever,” said Provost and Senior Vice Chancellor Ann E. Cudd in her opening remarks. “I hope we can continue to share perspectives that will enhance our understanding, measurement, achievement and equity.” (Aimee Obidzinski/University of Pittsburgh)
  • Stephen Wisniewski (left), vice provost for data and information, organized the summit, now in its second year and which attracted more participants from more institutions than the year before. The event was co-sponsored by Othot, which Andrew Hannah (right), adjunct professor and executive-in-residence at Pitt Business, founded. (Aimee Obidzinski/University of Pittsburgh)
  • From left are Assistant Provost Nancy Tannery; Monica Rattigan, executive director of University stores and strategic initiatives; and Alaa Alghwiri, data scientist on the Office of the Provost’s Data Analytics Team. The three were members of a panel that discussed evaluating the impact of digital content on student course outcomes. (Aimee Obidzinski/University of Pittsburgh)
  • Charlotte Wang, operations and quality administrator in the Division of Philanthropic and Alumni Engagement, was a first-time attendee to the summit. “I do data analysis work, so I want to see what kind of tools people use and what questions they have,” she said. (Aimee Obidzinski/University of Pittsburgh)
  • In the summit’s keynote presentation, Amelia Parnell, vice president for research and policy at the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators, discussed ideas data science could explore in the future, including examining students’ ability to afford college and providing evidence that learning happens everywhere. (Aimee Obidzinski/University of Pittsburgh)