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November 12, 2013

Purdue places priority on data analytics with new chief data officer

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Brent Drake has been named Purdue University's chief data officer and will oversee university efforts to analyze and disseminate data for the most effective decision-making and measurement of institutional excellence.

Drake, currently Purdue assistant vice provost and director of enrollment management analysis and reporting, will manage the Office of Institutional Research, Assessment and Effectiveness and will report to Gerry McCartney, the university's chief information officer, who adds the office to his current responsibilities. McCartney will report directly to President Mitch Daniels.

"Data analytics, or big data as many call it, has vast implications for student success," Daniels said. "This initiative signals our intention to make Purdue a national leader in using data analytics to support and enhance student growth."

The chief data officer position replaces that of the executive director of strategic planning and assessment. Drake's primary role will be to oversee the university's data collection efforts and ensure that data is analyzed in a consistent and useful manner that helps inform decision-making and improve institutional excellence across campus.

"I look forward to working closely with Brent as we shape this area to focus on the changing information needs we face in higher education," said McCartney, who also is Purdue's Oesterle Professor of Information Technology. "In this age of so-called big data, we need to be able not just to collect massive amounts of information, but also make sure we effectively analyze and disseminate that data so it can serve as an aid to decision-making and help us monitor progress toward our ultimate goal of student growth and achievement."

McCartney said faculty will be able to use the data and analysis much like a physician uses data to treat a patient.

"When a physician walks into a hospital room, the patient typically is connected to a variety of machines that are giving information about how a person is doing," he said. "The physician then takes the data, combines it with his or her experience and training and determines the best approach for that patient. Our goal is for our faculty to have the data they need to be able to identify students who are struggling and which modes of instruction produce the best results in student learning."

Drake said the Office of Institutional Research, Assessment and Effectiveness will focus on data related to student learning and attainment, overall institutional effectiveness, institutional reporting, faculty activity and data analytics.

"My goal is to help Purdue become a national leader in using data in a way that meaningfully contributes to effective use of our institutional, financial and faculty resources and puts us at the leading edge of both scientific discovery and educating students," he said. "For our students, we want to examine how they best learn and then provide the learning tools that allow them to grow in a way that is transformative."

More effective use of analytics on the wealth of data Purdue has holds the key to assessing student growth and progress to help them reach their educational goals, Drake said. The office also will compile and analyze the vast amounts of information the university is required to collect for outside sources as well as tracking university efforts to ensure overall effectiveness, reduce the amount of time required to make scientific discoveries, determine the most efficient use of campus facilities and the evaluate methods to generate potential cost savings.

Drake holds three degrees from Purdue: a bachelor's degree earned in 1995 in athletic training; a master's earned in 1997 in sports psychology; and a doctorate earned in 2009 in educational psychology, with an emphasis in motivational theory and psychometrics.

McCartney, who has been Purdue's chief information officer since 2007, led the development of Signals, a data analytics system that gives students feedback on how to improve their academic behavior. Also under his leadership, Purdue has developed the nation's largest cyberinfrastructure for research, with three supercomputers currently listed in the internationally known Top 500 list, and has developed one of the nation's most advanced suites of learning and classroom technologies through the Purdue Studio project. 

Sources: Mitch Daniels, president@purdue.edu 

Gerry McCartney, 765-496-2270, mccart@purdue.edu 

Brent Drake, 765-494-6136, bmdrake@purdue.edu