February 10, 2016  

Purdue Profiles: Ben Wiles

Ben Wiles

Ben Wiles, director of institutional effectiveness, is using data and analytics to help make the Purdue Moves initiative a reality by creating a clearer picture of what is helping students be successful, how space on campus could be used and by improving analysis of institutional resources. (Purdue University photo/Mark SImons)
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Ben Wiles is using data and analytics to help make the Purdue Moves initiative a reality by creating a clearer picture of what is helping students be successful, how space on campus could be used and by improving analysis of institutional resources.

Wiles, the director of institutional effectiveness, studied mathematics at Purdue as an undergraduate and received a master's degree in the field at Kansas State University. He returned to Purdue to pursue a doctorate in special education. However, his desire to help the University advance led him to accept a role in the Office of Institutional Research, Assessment and Effectiveness, where he oversees a staff with formal backgrounds in computer science, statistics, management information systems, education, mathematics and actuarial sciences.

What is your role as director of institutional effectiveness?

The idea was to bring formal data analytics to higher education. We are trying to increase the maturity of data analytics at the University. We have been collecting data for a long, long time, but are we making sure we keep up with the needs of the University? Our president talks a lot about marbled waste throughout the University and how we should ensure our resources are aligned with our core mission. It is very difficult to understand the complex University environment unless you have deep, robust data combined with rich, actionable analytics from which you can make decisions.  If you want to be more efficient, you need to understand how things are connected and be more surgical in your approach.

We are helping people do that mainly within the area of the treasurer's office, which has three big areas: physical facilities, finance and human resources. We are working on having our research data analysts embedded in those groups and supporting them directly. In many cases, our analysts may lack an immediate depth of operational domain knowledge in those areas, but they were hired because of their deeper analytic backgrounds so that they can partner to do more agile, deeper dives and also perform cross-functional analyses on our side so that our office can build a bigger picture of what's working across campus. Another large portion of our work is dedicated to integrating tools, building data systems and performing analyses that directly support the programs and operations of student success at Purdue.

What sparked your interest in this field?

Fundamentally, I am interested in education. I am at Purdue because I care about educational systems and about paying as much attention to them as we would anything else that has such a profound impact on our society. Honestly, it's like when people talk about finding a cure for cancer or addressing sustainable energy. People dedicate their lives to those things, and I think we should turn our attention and intellectual pursuits just as deeply to educational systems and how they work. Educational systems are universally foundational to the advancement of almost any endeavor.

What are some examples of recent projects?

One project that comes to mind is the space utilization data project, which will make space usage within individual units more transparent and accessible for their internal decision making, as well as provide a context to understand how other departments, and the University at large, are using space to help ensure that future needs are met across campus.

We also have worked on projects dealing with course enrollment information, financial management information, an analysis of digital educational resources and overviews of student success programs.

Our broader group, OIRAE, also works closely with the president and provost to understand the progress on Purdue Moves. Many of the projects within my area are directed at applying or enabling the principles of the effort at an operational or strategic level for individual units on campus.

What is your favorite part of your job?

Learning about the University. Once I understand it, I suppose I won't be very happy in this job, but I don't think that will ever happen. There are tens of thousands of faculty, staff and students here working together. What does that mean and to what end? With all the great work they are doing, where are we going to be in 100 years?

Writer: Megan Huckaby, 765-496-1325, mhuckaby@purdue.edu 

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