Purdue Profiles: Taylor Brodner

Taylor Brodner, information systems specialist

Taylor Brodner’s career at Purdue has been a bit like dominoes falling into place. She might never have applied to Purdue’s Office of Institutional Research, Assessment and Effectiveness (OIRAE) without discovering her passion for data. She likely would not have found that passion without changing majors from engineering to industrial management, per the support of a Purdue Promise coach her sophomore year. Of course, she’d never have met her coach without entering Purdue as a 21st Century Scholar. And if it weren’t for that program’s financial aid package, in fact, Brodner says she might never have come to Purdue at all.

All of this is to say that Brodner’s professional path has now come full circle. Today, in her role with OIRAE, Brodner supports all the information systems needs of Student Success Programs. Just shy of two years since earning her degree, Brodner and her OIRAE colleagues have created a Student Achievement Dashboard, which she presented at a national conference. Moreover, she recently helped author a paper on the data-driven coaching model for Purdue Promise. While she’s always viewed Purdue Promise as an exceptional program based on her own student experience, she now has a bird’s-eye view of the myriad ways the program is boosting its students’ retention and graduation rates.

What do you do on an average day?

I help support data initiatives related to student success, both within Student Success Programs and elsewhere on campus. I create dashboards and data visualizations so that departments can easily interpret information and tell a story about how their program is performing, or how students’ outcomes have improved. I’m also involved in several systems initiatives, such as a recent software project for the Disability Resource Center. For that project, I worked alongside an IT business analyst to document existing technology used by the DRC and gathered system requirements. I had the opportunity to help DRC staff select the software product they’d be using, and now I’m working alongside the business analyst to help implement the new system, which the DRC aims to have ready by fall 2018.

What do you find most exciting about your job?

My passion is using data to advance student success. I like being able to visually show which initiatives are effective, whether we’re looking at Supplemental Instruction attendance or the effects on GPA when students are regularly meeting with Peer Success or Purdue Promise coaches. The overarching goal is to make data accessible so that staff and faculty can make informed decisions about their programs, as opposed to trying to extrapolate meaning from a bunch of numbers on a spreadsheet. I’m really happy I get to work for Student Success Programs in general because I can relate to the students in these programs, and I love that I am able to positively impact them.

In what ways does your work impact students?

As one example, I manage a database that shows students’ scholarship status and academic standing, as well as all contact students have with the Purdue Promise program. The Purdue Promise director is able to use that information to assist program participants through Satisfactory Academic Progress (SAP) appeals (loss of financial aid); merit appeals (loss of Purdue Promise award); and state appeals (loss of 21st Century Scholars award). Since fall 2012, 80 percent of students who used support from Purdue Promise have had their appeals approved, which has helped them retain their scholarships and remain enrolled at Purdue. Additionally, if program staff look at student graduation and retention rates and see concerning trends, they can react and adjust their approaches accordingly. Or, we might notice that a lot of students are getting low grades or dropping certain courses. It could be an indication that we should make more resources available for those classes, such as Supplemental Instruction sessions. We could also communicate existing resources to students enrolled in traditionally tough courses to make sure they are informed and empowered to be successful.

What skills have been most useful in your role?

I’m currently pursuing a master’s degree in computer and information technology, with an emphasis on IT business analysis. The skills I’m learning through this program are relevant because I’m working on managing new technology projects, gathering requirements, and figuring out where we have gaps or what kind of technology we should be using. I’ve also taken courses on change management and interpersonal skills development, which are useful when you’re trying to help stakeholders understand the benefits of a new system, why a change is needed, or how it might affect their day-to-day work. I’m also involved in Toastmasters at Purdue, which has provided a lot of practice for presenting about my work at national conferences, including a presentation about our Student Achievement Dashboard at NASPA (National Association of Student Personnel Administrators).

Can you share a bit more about the Student Achievement Dashboard?

This is something I worked on with my colleagues in OIRAE to help all of our Student Success programs better understand their students’ performance, as well as graduation and retention rates. It shows what courses students are taking, and which ones they might be struggling in or withdrawing from. It’s been most helpful for Purdue Promise, because students in that program historically have had lower graduation rates than the University average. The program has been closing that gap for the last several years, and Purdue Promise students have nearly met the University’s graduation rate, as of the most recent census data. By using the Student Achievement Dashboard, Purdue Promise staff can quickly view their student cohort data and compare them to the University’s undergraduate rates, making adjustments to their programming as needed. Viewing these comparisons in the past might have taken a couple weeks because the data had to be compiled manually; but now, thanks to the dashboard, it can be done in minutes.

Of which professional achievement are you most proud?

Last year, I worked on an OIRAE briefing that presented an in-depth look at Purdue Promise and its impact on students. Michelle Ashcraft, Purdue Promise director, found an opportunity to expand the two-page briefing into a lengthier paper and submitted it to the 13th annual National Symposium on Student Retention. We found out in July that our paper had been accepted, and we’ll be presenting it at November’s symposium in Florida. I really liked the way Michelle and Jess Ramsey, assistant director of Purdue Promise, explained Purdue Promise’s function and history, and I was able to supplement their work with data that show the program’s effectiveness. It’s very cool to look at the data and see all the improvements that have taken place since the program got a makeover in the fall of 2013. I also loved working on the paper because, as a former Purdue Promise student, I understand what an impact the program can have.

Writer: Andrea Mattingly, andrea@purdue.edu

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