Data Driven: Bringing the Faculty Perspective to University Stats and Numbers


  Antonio Zavaliangos

A love of data and numbers is what drives Drexel Materials A.W. Grosvenor Professor Antonios Zavaliangos. His research in the Powder Materials Group encompasses computation and simulation, figuring out why things fail, and, of course, analyzing numbers and data.

So it’s no surprise that this former Drexel Materials Department Head found his way to analyzing numbers and data at the University level.

“I have always been curious about data at the University level,” shares Zavaliangos. This sentiment brought him to serve first as a member of the Faculty Senate Budget Planning and Development Committee (BP&D), which he now chairs in a two-year commitment, and additionally as a Provost Fellow this past academic year, working with the Office of Institutional Research.

Zavaliangos’s role in the Office of Institutional Research is a first for that office. Zavaliangos was particularly impressed by the reports they put out and by their use of the powerful data tool Tableau. Last year, he met with Vice Provost Mark Freeman to discuss Tableau and data, which ultimately led to his appointment as Provost Fellow.

“If there’s one place where I wanted to play, it was with their office,” says Zavaliangos. “They have the numbers.”

In a year of pre-strategic planning, Zavaliangos found himself serving on three committees towards that effort: Thinking Forward, Academic Resource Planning, and Retention. His role on these committees included not only lots of data and analysis, but also bringing the faculty perspective to the planning process.

“Antonios was instrumental in helping the planning process to realize one of its key goals of improving communication between administration and faculty on issues of importance to the university,” shares Freeman. “Antonios’s unique ability to appreciate the importance of both perspectives, and to speak forthrightly about them, was a major reason the process had the success that it did in this regard.”

Understanding the data from a faculty perspective is important for the University so that the administrative and academic sides are speaking the same language. For example, Zavaliangos realized that one key analysis was counting research faculty as faculty, when most research faculty at Drexel do not have their own projects, but rather work with a tenure-track faculty member on a particular research project. This distinction made it clear that tenure-track faculty and their research projects are a primary factor contributing to Drexel’s recent establishment as an R1 university, which translates to a very high level of research productivity. Explaining the differences in faculty roles is an area where a long-time faculty member like Zavaliangos can help.

Zavaliangos has been most impressed by the quantity and quality of the data analysis produced by the Office of Institutional Research, including benchmarking against other universities, self-analysis, and one of the key accomplishments of the office, developing an early warning system for students. The early warning system maps individual student’s success of their courses and gives a probability of failure, among other areas, ultimately getting a list of students at risk of failure to the departments to reach out to the students and get them the support they need.

“It has been an incredible pleasure to work with people who are smart and care immensely about the University,” muses Zavaliangos.

In the Faculty Senate, a unanimous nomination led to Zavaliangos being appointed chair of the Budget Planning and Development Committee, after the chair during Zavaliangos’s first year as a member of the committee became chair of the entire Faculty Senate. Zavaliangos took it upon himself to take a deep dive into the University’s finances to really understand them, something which he realizes now he didn’t fully comprehend before.

In February 2019, Zavaliangos gave a presentation to the full Faculty Senate with his analysis of the financial position of the University today, putting it in the context of the overall changes in higher education over the last 15 to 20 years. He received overwhelmingly positive feedback on the presentation. “People told me that no one had ever truly explained the finances in an easily understandable way before,” shares Zavaliangos. He has also been teaching the faculty about how the RCM (Responsibility Center Management) financial model, which Drexel is adopting, really works and how it connects the University’s finances with the academic operation.

The experience Zavaliangos has gained with Tableau has assisted him with his work on the Faculty Senate. In addition to the financial data, he has looked at the benchmarking data, graduate program data, as well as student satisfaction surveys.

And the faculty perspective has brought Zavaliangos’s talents to other University offices. He provided feedback to procurement on their P-card (purchasing card) policy and is now a member of the Procurement Advisory Board. He also met with Megan Weyler, Vice President of Human Resources and Organizational Effectiveness to discuss the human resources compensation report and other needs.

These positions have given Zavaliangos a comprehensive understanding of the University’s operations. Reflecting on his experiences, Zavaliangos states, “Both positions speak to what I like to do and have been a good match.”

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