Student Affairs has realigned staff members to a dedicated team that will use data to improve student experiences. The Assessment and Advancement of Student Life team will regularly collect and analyze data to understand how the division’s programs and services can better align with Washington State University’s values and meet student needs.
The team will be led by Luci Loera and Manuel Acevedo, the executive director and director, respectively, who have extensive experience in using data to inform and improve the programs they run at WSU.
“After years of outstanding work in assessment, I’m so excited to be charging Luci and Manuel to lead the division’s work in this space,” said Vice President for Student Affairs Mary Jo Gonzales. “They have a proven track record of commitment to student success and creating equitable environments in which students live, learn, lead, and thrive.”
Providing exceptional leadership
As the executive director of the Office for Access and Opportunity, Loera leads WSU Pullman’s TRIO programs, which require assessment as a condition of funding. Conducting regular assessments on these programs, Loera said, has given her abundant experience in using data to make WSU’s programs more culturally responsive and relevant to students.
“I’m always re-evaluating how we provide our services and how we can improve,” said Loera, who has also served on the national board for the Council of Education and as a TRIO regional president. “As a long-time student affairs practitioner, I’m really excited to see this division-wide initiative and to have a wider scope of responsibility.”
For Acevedo, who works in Multicultural Student Services and runs the Team Mentoring Program (TMP), using data to inform decisions is a natural part of his role. He started TMP almost 15 years ago after studying the data on underrepresented students in STEM programs and finding that their retention rates were lower than those of other students, especially among sophomores. TMP provides mentorship and support to those students.
“TMP is really a response to looking at data, doing an assessment to understand that we had a problem with retention of our students in STEM, and developing a mentoring program to support them,” said Acevedo. “It’s a great example of using what we know to create solutions that transform the experience of our students.”
Using data for better experiences and outcomes
The evolution of the assessment team builds on the past four years of departmental external reviews, program evaluations, and using data to drive division and department decisions.
The Cougar Food Pantry is one recent example of this data-informed decision-making. During recent semesters, Loera monitored traffic and usage at the pantry in the Lighty building and conducted a student survey to determine how it could better meet their needs.
That data resulted in moving the pantry to the ground floor of the CUB – a much more accessible location for students. Since that move in July, Loera said, the pantry has experienced a noticeable uptick in use. During the first day of class this semester, the pantry had 82 users, which is the same number it would have had in a week in the former location.
“By tracking traffic and asking students how they were using the pantry, we’ve been able to better meet their needs,” she said.
Results like this highlight the importance of assessment in creating better support and outcomes for students. In the coming months, Loera said, she and Acevedo will conduct listening sessions with division staff to better understand existing assessment efforts and gaps.
With information from those listening sessions, they will work with the full team to map the needs of the division and create a framework for assessment efforts.
“I’m looking forward to this effort because the team will use assessment, research, and planning to assist everyone in the division with data-informed decisions while keeping students at the center,” Acevedo said. “Our ultimate goal is understanding how we can facilitate experiences that will help students stay at WSU and not just survive, but thrive.”