Storytelling through data

by Matt Jardin  |   

Institutional Research director Daniel Campbell
Institutional Research director Daniel Campbell.

Ask Daniel Campbell, Ph.D., to talk about his career in education and research and he’ll kick things off with a joke: “I liked college so much I never left,” citing his appreciation for higher education’s potential to advance knowledge and understanding.

That admiration led Campbell to his recent position as director of UAA’s Office of Institutional Research, which he began remotely from his home in Pullman, Washington, on June 20. In this role, Campbell will lead Institutional Research in support of the university’s mission to ensure student success by developing data for informed decision making.

“When we think about research, we have to think about it from multiple perspectives,” said Campbell. “How can we work with our colleagues to learn what kind of data they need? And when we ask a question and explore the answer, what's the utility of that? If we've generated the same report for 20 years, is it still helping folks? Research is really important to a continuous improvement model.” 

Before coming to UAA, Campbell had been involved virtually at every level and in every type of research over his two-decade career — from applying for grants to administering them, to his current research and practice in the use of data-driven decision making in higher education administration.

Starting his career at Eastern Washington University, Campbell later transitioned to Washington State University to build a non-service line oncology research center. During that time, he developed his passion for higher education. From there, he was recruited by the University of Idaho (UoI) where he took a leadership position with one of its largest federally-funded pathogenic research centers and later built one of the largest assessment and accreditation offices at the institution.

While working at UoI, Campbell completed his master’s degree in higher education, focusing on research administration and grant development. That focus was further refined when Campbell proceeded toward his doctorate, examining how university leadership at all levels classifies and assesses data for policy making, strategic planning and budgetary allocations.

“Data tells a story,” said Campbell. “How can that story be shared and utilized to inform leadership in the greater context of decision making? Higher education is incredibly complex, nuanced and impactful. I want to make sure I'm able to listen and hear what leaders across the institution and our partners across the state need, and help provide them with high-utility data. 

Campbell also plans to make research made by him and his team more available in ways that the broader community can use in their work. 

“Institutional Research offices typically talk about graduation rates, degrees awarded and student demographic breakdowns. But there's also depth and power in narrative stories, information that transcends and parallels the numerical” said Campbell. “Going back to how data can tell a story, sometimes that’s a graph or a figure, and other times it's something richer. So we want to make sure we continue to deliver data consistently while appropriately and respectfully capturing any narrative and sharing it in a way that communicates to all sectors the impact that UAA has.”

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