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Behind the Scenes: Office of Undergraduate Education

Debbie Michaels and Amanda Knapp manage academic policy within the Office of Undergraduate Education.

The Office of Undergraduate Education (OUE) at UMBC is dedicated to supporting students as they successfully complete their degree at the university. One of the many ways that OUE contributes to this goal is by managing undergraduate academic policy administration. In cases where students are faced with a challenging academic position, they are often encouraged to work closely with their academic advisor along with OUE to map out a success plan. In some cases, students find themselves in a position in which an exception to undergraduate academic policy is the only justified alternative. OUE reviews petitions for course repeats, adding a class after the end of the schedule adjustment period, and various other types of graduation waivers.  Amanda Knapp, the Academic Standards and Policy Specialist, oversees undergraduate academic policy administration within OUE. Working with Program Management Specialist Debbie Michaels, Knapp manages all undergraduate academic policy related petitions and the subsequent decision-making process.

In the past, OUE worked with a paper-based system for exception requests. Each type of request required a different form that students would download from OUE’s website. Students would be required to enter their own data into the respective form, and then a staff member would re-enter that same data into various systems. Due to this cumbersome and duplicative process there was an increased chance for data error, not to mention the potential for back-log due to the time-consuming nature of manual data entry. This problem was also exacerbated by the fact that once a petition decision was made, the outcome needed to be processed via e-mail, since only the Registrar’s Office could make the required adjustments to the students record in the system. “There was a lot of back and forth, and the process was further delayed if someone was on vacation,” explains Knapp. Furthermore, the email system was not secure and there was no clear way to run statistics on petition requests. The antiquated process was not supportive of offering exceptional student service, especially in cases that were time-sensitive.

Seeking a more efficient way to deal with petitions, Gust Mitchell, the Associate Dean of Undergraduate Education, contacted DoIT for help. Working together along with Knapp, who joined OUE in May 2011, they were able to develop new processes through Google and RT to better manage petitions and the subsequent decisions. “It was a seamless transition,” Knapp says of the change, which was fully implemented in the fall of 2011.

As a result of a close collaboration between DoIT and OUE, a new Undergraduate Academic Policy Exception Request Form has now been created. The online form can be accessed directly from a student’s myUMBC account and is time stamped upon electronic submission. Immediately after students submit a petition, they receive a confirmation of receipt from OUE and are provided with a copy of the petition for their records. For each student that submits a petition, a file is created and maintained in an electronic format via Google, which Michaels manages. Using this new file format, Michaels has successfully transferred over 5,000 entries from the previous system, thus eliminating the need for hard copy files and excessive printing and copy costs. By leveraging the technology of Google along with the support of DoIT, student petitions and files can literally be managed from any location at any time of day, which creates greater efficiencies and reliable student support.

Knapp indicates that, “On the front end, the use of Google has reduced confusion since students are now directed to a single, intuitive form versus trying to decipher multiple forms for various types of requests.” Data from the petitions is automatically captured in a consistent format, eliminating the need for manual data entry.  On the back end, RT has facilitated the decision-making process and enabled not only greater visibility between OUE and the Registrar’s Office, but also a faster processing time. Since multiple users can access any RT ticket submitted through a shared queue, Knapp believes it “creates a team approach to the petition process instead of simply relying on one or two people.” In addition, the use of RT allows for final actions/adjustments to students records to be securely maintained for reporting and audit purposes.

What is most exciting about this entire process Knapp says, is that “we now have a tool in place that provides us with the ability to assess the outcomes of the petition decisions that we make. Through the use of Google we’re now able to answer specific questions by running reports with different parameters.” Report availability ranges from how many students were granted exceptions during a certain semester and what type of exceptions were granted to how many students repeating a certain course for a third and final attempt received a “C” or better. Knapp also believes that the improved access to data may actually help OUE to better assess undergraduate academic policy and be more proactive. According to Knapp, one of the most critical aspects of working with university policy is that “decisions are made in a meaningful way and are reflective of our institutional goals–better data may lead to better policy, which we trust will ultimately aid in student success. Of course, student success remains our top priority.”

Since OUE implemented the Google-based exception request system and RT ticketing queue with the support of DoIT, more than 1,000 new petitions and decisions have been processed. The second phase of the exception request system is set to launch in spring 2013, and will feature compatibility with PeopleSoft and Rex reporting in order to ensure even greater student support.

–Article and photo by Laura Lefavor ’13, Summer 2012