An interview with HelioCampus Analysts, Doug Nutter, Ph.D. and Matt Hendrickson, LPD.
Reflecting on an energizing week at the AIR Forum in Washington D.C. at the end of May, HelioCampus’ Matt Hendrickson and Doug Nutter, both formerly of Institutional Research, share their educational journey. From working for and within one institution, to supporting a variety of institutions addressing their strategic goals, two things remain constant: their passion for higher education and data driven decision making. Below they share their thoughts on evolving institutional research priorities, working in and for higher education and what’s next.
HelioCampus: Tell me about your background in higher ed?
Matt: I have a decade of experience in higher education including administration, data analysis, and teaching. Like almost everyone in IR, I didn’t plan on going into IR; I fell into it when I was in my master's program and saw a flyer for an Institutional Research certificate program. I completed the program because I was intrigued by the use of research and analysis for improving higher education. Once I started my first role in IR, I purposefully took on projects to experience all aspects of enrollment management including recruitment, admissions, financial aid, enrollment and alumni. My next role was focused on retention and graduation modeling, predicting the likelihood of students returning and completing their programs. Next, I transitioned to marketing analytics, setting up the marketing analytics function within the business school of my institution. I also have experience developing and teaching a course in learning analytics, an introduction to data mining in higher education. Through broad and deep exposure to all aspects of the student lifecycle, I realized the importance of visibility into the connections between admissions, enrollment, student success and institutional financials.
Doug: I also have a collection of experiences from over a decade in higher education, including the University of Arizona as Coordinator of Advising and Curriculum Development in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology; the University of Maryland at Baltimore as Research Analyst and Assessment Coordinator in the School of Pharmacy; and at Bowie State University as the Director of Institutional Research. Access to better opportunities is what fuels my passion for higher education. Each of my previous roles allowed me to focus on student success, but from different angles. For instance, at UA, I helped restructure the undergraduate curriculum overall in a way to promote student retention and performance, and also revised the advising model we used. At UMB, I helped understand the qualitative and quantitative differences among the various programs that were offered, which in turn helped improve licensure success rates. At BSU, I pushed the institution to understand how (high-quality) data supported student success, and learned a lot about how students actually move through a degree program, which was different than what most people thought. One of the more rewarding parts of what I do is helping others understand the importance of how having good data integrity and quality really supports student success, which underlies everything we do.
HelioCampus: How did you hear of HelioCampus and why did you join?
Matt: I heard of HelioCampus from Doug, actually. He reached out to me with a request to post a job opening to my network on LinkedIn. Ultimately we ended up talking about me joining HelioCampus, which I was thrilled to do in June 2016. Throughout my discussion with Doug and in learning more about HelioCampus, I was intrigued by the level of sophistication and usage of data to improve higher education. Of all of my professional roles, I have never seen examples of institutions that embedded in data and analytics or really using data to make their strategic decisions. With the increased competition in higher education, I saw the clear need for this and was excited to be part of it.
Doug: I have known Jack (Neill, VP of Client Services) and Darren (Catalano, CEO) for a while now, from when they worked at UMUC. The week that HelioCampus became a company we were all at EDUCAUSE. I attended a session about Tableau and data analytics and learned about the model and approach and remember thinking, “this is what we need!” About a month later Jack reached out to me about joining, and shortly after that, in early February 2016, I was hired. It was an opportunity to do all the cool stuff that I didn't have time to do at any of my other jobs. I have been able to build something that I would have wanted to build at other institutions. I enjoy being able to help move other institutions along the data and analytics pathway quickly and save them the pain of having to figure this out for themselves.
HelioCampus: How did your most recent AIR/conference experience compare now that you are representing HelioCampus?
Matt: Instead of attending as many of the sessions, I get to speak with more of the membership and hear what's holding them back and their challenges. I get to keep a pulse on what the industry is feeling and needing. Because of my deep roots and passion for higher education, I am still very connected to and invested in the membership. I still have networking groups and dinner groups at conferences. It's a great opportunity for me to reconnect with past colleagues and meet new ones.
Doug: I use AIR as an opportunity to keep informed on what people are doing in the industry and learn about what services they need and where they are encountering challenges. It is less of a “filling up” learning and more of a “what’s missing” learning.
HelioCampus: Were there any themes this year that are indicators of evolving priorities in the field of IR?
Matt: The biggest theme was around data visualization. I was also hearing more about data warehousing and the need for it, and a lot about more predictive, instead of prescriptive analytics.
Doug: I agree, a growing need for data visualization and data storytelling was the big one.
HelioCampus: Are there any opportunities that you see to help organizations like HelioCampus partner more closely with AIR and the IR community?
Matt: Yes! Because we have a broad view, outside of just one institution, we are able to help provide guidance and leadership in some areas based on our work with a diverse set of institutions. Many IR offices are very small and may not have the opportunity to stay on top of cutting edge tools and trends. We are able to see these benefits and help institutions transition to better methodologies and new resources.
HelioCampus: What did you learn that will help to inform your work at HelioCampus?
Doug: Institutions are beginning to understand that third party data sets that are freely available (like National Student Clearinghouse, IPEDS, U.S. Census, and Bureau of Labor Statistics) are really useful, but capturing the power of those is still elusive. These data are sometimes not terribly user-friendly, and it can take a lot of time and expertise to get it into a format that makes it accessible, interpretable, and most important, actionable. So we’re really focusing on making these data sets useful to our clients More broadly, though, we should be working together to enhance the availability and ease of access of data at the national level.
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