STEPS Database Team

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Team ID: 
College / Administrative Unit: 
Agricultural Sciences, College of
Date Started: 
February 2005
This team is a result of a collaborative project between the following departments in the College of Agricultural Sciences (CoAS): Agricultural Economics and Rural Sociology (AERS); Crop and Soil Sciences (CRPSS); and Food Science (FD SC). A programming resource was funded by the CoAS Graduate Office.

This CQI project is an extension of departmental CQI team initiatives.

Team members: Kathy Barr (CRPSS), Ellie Chapman (FD SC), Sue Confer (AERS), Donna Hawbaker (AERS), Linda Kline (AERS), Linda Mace (AERS)-team leader, Donna Merrill (FD SC)-facilitator, Sue Rossman (AERS), Melissa Strouse (FD SC), Robbie Swanger (AERS), and Juanita Wolfe (FD SC)
(other resources when appropriate)

Sponsors: Department Heads: John Floros (FD SC),
Steve Smith (AERS), and David Sylvia (CRPSS)
Bruce McPheron, CoAS Associate Dean, Graduate Programs*

* Funded programmer for this project.

College of Agricultural Sciences academic departments face an increasingly complex environment for handling graduate student information. More processes have been distributed to departments and departments have more information to manage. Students are funded in more ways making it more difficult to track the stipend payments for each student and make commitments. General funds dollars committed to graduate student salaries are smaller. Departments have fewer staff and need efficient processes to maintain quality service.

AERS CQI Team (Team# 537)
It was within this environment that the Department of Agricultural Economics and Rural Sociology formed a CQI Team in June, 2003 to examine current processes for handling academic and financial information for admitted graduate students. As part of the process, the team was asked to determine whether it is possible to develop and maintain a single electronic source of information to meet the information needs of all department users. The team was composed of staff who work with both academic and financial aspects of graduate student support and graduate program coordinators. The final part of the team’s efforts was the identification of those data components that would need to be a part of the department database.

The Department of Food Science CQI Team (Team# 544)
The Department of Food Science also convened a CQI Team in May of 2003 to study the internal graduate assistantship processes. The objective of the team was to define, develop and implement a system for approving and tracking funding commitments and grant-in-aid packages (GIAs for graduate students). As a result of that team’s efforts, they developed an initial version of an Access database to begin to track information about graduate students. They are ready to expand the database and were exploring options for funding that effort.

The Department of Crop & Soil Sciences
The Department of Crop & Soil Sciences has taken a different approach. The graduate student information in that department is managed by the Administrative Assistant. She has developed Excel spreadsheets to help her track credentials of prospective students, applicant pools, committee logs, student academic progress, funding history and teaching experience, scholarly works, etc. These spreadsheets are not inter-related and the same information is entered many times in multiple spreadsheets. This is inefficient and increases the probability of inconsistencies in data among spreadsheets.

It was apparent that these departments had a common need in meeting the challenges of managing information and providing information for decision-making. In the spirit of continuous quality improvement throughout the college and with support of the three Department Heads, representatives from each of the departments formed an ad-hoc team to define a collaborative project and prepare a proposal to secure funding from the CoAS Dean’s office. A programming resource was funded by the Associate Dean of Graduate Programs, Dr. Bruce McPheron, to develop an Access database system that will provide a repository for graduate student information and some standard reports. This system will then be made available to each of the above departments and potentially other departments in the college as appropriate.

Expected Results
1) A template ACCESS database with common data elements and selected common reports that can be implemented at department level.
2) Ability to present real-time information from system to support both departmental and college operational and summary level needs (reports from database).
3) A centralized data system to support multiple needs and thereby the elimination of duplicated data tracking and more efficient use of resources (staff & faculty time).

Measures of progress for improvement project
1) Established time line (data elements defined, programming time, common outputs defined, small-scale testing, implementation and training on database within each department).
2) Database demonstration to Department Heads and CoAS Graduate Office.
3) Database implemented in each department.
4) Obtain feedback from each department after one academic cycle.

Changes are successful if:
1) Database reports meet customers’ needs (department and college),
2) Department Head and others receive timely information for decision making,
3) There is more efficient and effective use of departmental GIA & funding allocations,
4) A central database system houses necessary data to support items 1-3 and reduction in staff hours needed to complete the support operations as a result of the database.
Actions by STEPS Team to Date

To date this CQI team has:

1) Obtained approval by Department Heads for resource commitment to this initiative and secured funding of programmer’s time from the College.
2) Established rough time line for duration of project and resource commitment.
3) Defined most common data elements.
4) Define some outputs for the database.
5) Developed prototype database.
6) Reviewed and demonstrated test database.
7) Implemented database in Department of Agricultural Economics and Rural Sociology and Department of Crops and Soil Science.
8) Trial usage of data and financial reports during spring 2006 graduate assistantship appointment cycle by Department of Agricultural Economics and Rural Sociology.
9) Revising outputs based on trial usage.
10) Planning implementation of database in Department of Food Science in early February 2006.

Contact Person: 
Linda Mace
  • John Floros, Sponsor
  • Bruce McPheron, Sponsor
  • Stephen Smith, Sponsor
  • David Sylvia, Sponsor
  • Linda Mace, Leader
  • Donna Merrill, Facilitator
  • Kathy Barr, Member
  • Ellie Chapman, Member
  • Sue Confer, Member
  • Donna Hawbaker, Member
  • Linda Kline, Member
  • Susan Rossman, Member
  • Melissa Strouse, Member
  • Robbie Swanger, Member
  • Juanita Wolfe, Member