"Team Panel Discussion"

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April 2010

The April 30, 2010, Quality Advocates session featured three of the sixty teams honored at the annual Quality Issues Forum. During the session, leaders of three cross-unit teams talked about how their teams formed, how the teams were able to implement change, and some of the challenges they faced. Louise Sandmeyer, Executive Director, Office of Planning and Institutional Assessment, moderated the session. The panelists and their teams included:


Lysa Holland, Team Co-Leader and Environmental Compliance Engineer, Office of Physical Plant (OPP) – Environmental Health and Safety


Team #929 – Biodiesel/Biolubricants Fluids Team

Team Purpose:

To lead the Commonwealth in the use of biodiesel as a viable fuel and switch Penn State’s agricultural equipment to environmentally friendly hydraulic oils.


College of Agricultural Sciences / College of Earth and Mineral Sciences / College of Engineering / Finance and Business / Research / Eberly College of Science


Tanya Furman, Team Co-Leader and Assistant Vice President and Associate Dean, Undergraduate Education and Professor of Geosciences


Team # 906 – Lower-Division Math Instruction and Advising Team

Team Purpose:

To improve teaching, learning, advising and student success in lower-division mathematics courses. This involves improving student mastery of algebra for those students to whom it is a pre-requisite for calculus-based work in the major, and broadening General Education course advising and choices for students whose majors do not require calculus.


Eberly College of Science / Undergraduate Education


Rob Hippo, Team Leader and Director of Finance, Penn State Altoona


Team # 921 – Penn State Altoona Registration Committee

Team Purpose:

To implement a new registration process that is more efficient, provides more accurate enrollment and income information, and reduces the number of non-paid students at the time of the census snapshot.


Penn State Altoona Registrar’s Office, Student Aid, Bursar’s Office, and Housing and Food Services

All three teams incorporated basic tenets of Continuous Quality Improvement: 1) the teams included people who were familiar with and knowledgeable about the areas being improved; 2) the teams relied on data to inform their decision-making; and 3) there was a clear definition of the process to be improved.

Team Membership

Each of the teams evolved from initial meetings between a few people who saw a need for improvement. In these early meetings, the participants realized their teams needed to involve the people who knew the most about the process they were changing.panel As the teams evolved and expanded their work, additional people were added to the team, so that the people most familiar with the process were involved. The panelists suggested that it was important to involve people in the decision-making so they would support the team’s improvements.

In its early meetings, the Biodiesel/Biolubricants team realized Penn State had a preeminent biofuels and lubricants research faculty member in the College of Engineering and asked him to work with the team. When we came together, we had terrific leadership support at the very beginning. We were really empowered by our leaders to go ahead and find solutions.

Lysa Holland

Initially, the team was focused on implementing the use biofuels and biolubricants in agricultural equipment, so the core team members included faculty, the manager of farm operations (College of Agricultural Sciences), and an environmental compliance engineer (OPP’s Environmental Health and Safety). The team also included students as part of the implementation team. The team then looked to use biodiesel in Office of Physical Plant equipment, bio-hydraulic fluid in all Penn State elevators, and bio-hydraulic fluids in equipment at Penn State Berks. Team membership expanded to include OPP operations personnel and researchers for the Energy Institute (College of Earth and Mineral Sciences). After the team realized they could use the 13,000 gallons of cooking oil which was produced by Food Services each month and previously regarded as waste, team membership expanded to include representatives from Housing and Food Services and Hospitality Services. Team membership has changed, depending on the focus of the team, but the core members have been constant.

There was so much time wasted on the old process … everybody on our team knew this was a process that had to be changed and so they bought into being part of the team.

Rob Hippo
The Altoona Registration team recognized that in addition to representatives from the Registrar, the Bursar, and Student Aid, Housing and Food Services also needed to be on the team because a number of non-registered students live in residence halls and they represent a liability risk.

The Math team generally doesn’t meet as a full team, but rather works together in pairs and small groups, somewhat as “entrepreneurs”, according to Furman, and informs the other members of the team of their progress. Team members have the same end goal in mind which keeps their work focused. As part of the team’s work, Penn State Learning teamed with Information Technology Services to provide space and computer equipment that facilitated the Math department’s new on-line mastery-based approach to teaching Math 021 and 022 and development of create adaptive online tutoring services. The Mathematics Department, Undergraduate Education, and Division of Undergraduate Studies are involved in different areas of the project.

Using Data in Decision-making

Each of the teams identified data early on that showed there was a problem in the area they were addressing, and is also using data to track their success in implementing solutions.

  • The Math team analyzed success rates in lower division courses (Math 021 and 022) where half of the students earned grades below a C in their first attempts. After implementing online adaptive teaching software for students in algebra courses, the team found that students were using the software four to six hours on average each week, greatly increasing their time on task. … we’re helping these students [Math 021 and 022] get used to the idea that it is okay to ask for help … and that there is going to be somebody to help them. It is ironic that the use of a web-based technology has made learning more personal, rather than impersonal.

    Tanya Furman
    The team will be tracking success rates in algebra courses each semester to see whether students’ learning is improving. Surveys of students have found that those using the Web-based course have more positive attitudes toward math. To its surprise, the team has found that the use of Web-based adaptive tutoring has made math learning more personal.
  • Another area the Math team is addressing is General Education requirements for math. The team was intrigued after learning that the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE), which was administered to Penn State students in 2008, found that seniors in non-science majors felt less confident about their quantitative abilities than first-year students. The team is looking at alternatives to algebra for non-science majors, including a new course entitled The Mathematics of Money. The goal is to provide students with the appropriate math skills that they need for their education, rather than providing algebra to all students. Enrollment in non-algebra General Education courses has been increasing.
  • The Biodiesel/Biolubricants team tracks the number of gallons of oil processed, the equipment the oil is used in, and the number of elevators in which regular oil was replaced. In addition, the team evaluates other potential uses for biodiesel.
  • When the Altoona Registration team initially started their work, there were about 250 to 300 students who were in a scheduled status at week five of the semester. This means they had not paid their bill for the semester. Through their work, the team has been able to reduce this number to 70 to 80 students. By doing this, the campus has earlier access to about $1.5 million in funds. The team also tracks the number of non-paid students living in Penn State housing.


It is not uncommon for improvement and innovation teams to face some obstacles in their work. This was true for the panelists who discussed some of the challenges their teams faced. One problem faced by the Biodiesel/Biolubricants team was that they could not “pilot test” their initial use of biodiesel. All equipment had to be changed over at the same time, so this was a large endeavor.

Helping people to adapt to new ways also became a challenge for some teams. The Altoona Registration team found that students weren’t happy with the new practices for non-paid status. The team communicated the change a year ahead in as many places as possible, including at FTCAP, on the website, and on the campus television system. For the Math team, getting faculty, staff and students to think differently about how math fits into General Education requirements and the way these courses can be used to prepare students in various majors was a challenge.

Continuous improvement is continuous. After their initial successes, each of the teams plans to continue their work together. The Altoona Registration team has recently implemented an online request form for faculty. audienceIn addition, data show that out-of-state students are more likely to be in a non-paid status later in the semester and the team may look at this in their future work. The Biodiesel/Biolubricants team is working together to obtain a grant from the state Department of Environmental Protection to expand their operations. The Math team is looking to see how they can apply their knowledge and experience to other areas, and are meeting with the Eberly College of Science to look at lower-level science courses.

For more information on these teams, visit the Team Database at the Office of Planning and Institutional Assessment (/database/).

The Quality Advocates Network meets several times each semester to share ideas and examples of improvement and change. To join the Quality Advocates Network mailing list or to learn more about the meetings scheduled, contact the staff at psupia@psu.edu.

The Quality Advocates Network is open to all Penn State faculty, staff, administrators, and students.