Skills & Tools:

  • Contextual Inquiry
    • Interview
    • Comparative analysis
    • Qualitative research
  • Microsoft Office Suite
  • Google Data Studio

About U-M International Programs in Engineering

The International Programs in Engineering (IPE) at the University of Michigan (U-M) is a relatively autonomous program within the U-M’s College of Engineering (CoE) primarily designed to provide CoE students and student organizations with global engagement opportunities through study-abroad programs, internships, and other co-curricular experiences. By doing so, IPE’s mission is to offer a more holistic engineering curriculum by working with its students to accommodate their various needs such as rigorous schedules, and to ensure that they are prepared before departing for their international destinations. Although the percentage of engineering students who have went on a study abroad or international internship has steadily increased to roughly 25%, the members of IPE have expressed to us their desire to see the participation rate reach 100%.


At its core, our methodology centered around user-oriented contextual inquiry to conduct observations and interviews of stakeholders who could provide insights to the current work flow model in place at IPE. In other words, we analyzed data from each individual interview during our interpretation sessions in order to visualize the flow of communication and various strategies adopted by stakeholders depending on their roles and/or responsibilities. We interviewed the administrative assistant, a professional advisor and four peer advisors, as well as the director and manager of the IPE program for our initial client interview. From the information we gathered during our initial interview, we came to conceptualize the overall problem in two-folds where both the director and the manager’s responsibilities revolve around gathering and analyzing student data to identify various trends and student’s expectations. In doing so, they are able to target specific areas of improvements to expand IPE’s services in providing U-M CoE students with global learning-based engagement opportunities.

Data Concierge


Data Synthesis | System Network

Extract, Transfer, & Loading (ETL) Data

Given the increasing importance of data in organizational decision-making process, it is crucial for our client to have some means of efficiently accessing, storing, and analyzing various student demographic data to identify trends pertinent to their mission objectives. As such, we sought out professional advice by contacting U-M Information Quest (IQ), a data concierge service through U-M’s Information and Technology Services. After speaking with the Executive Director Vijay Thiruvengadam, we were able to devise a simplified conceptual model of ETL below in order to represent and to visualize the communication flow between various stakeholders at IPE.

From this model, the primary source of constraint stems from a combination of IPE’s size as an organization and the multiple sources of data retrieval points. Although retrieving data from three different points of interest may be feasible for larger organizations that can internally outsource the tasks for various teams to specialize in, such cannot be said the same for the context of our client. With only 6 full-time employees and only 1 or 2 whose tasks revolve around ETL process to improve IPE’s functions to facilitate international learning programs, we identify some of the ideal features to include cross-systems compatibility, manageable shared access, and project management tools to enhance communication and overall work flow.


Ideal System

To coordinate a more efficient system for synthesizing data from different sources then, one important factor to consider is establishing a standard platform for data sharing to optimize search efficiency. In regard to the University of Michigan, Qualtrics is used primarily as the university’s standard tool for collecting survey responses and data. However, the U-M’s decision in late-2012 to integrate Google services for a university-wide communication channel and information network pose challenges, if not additional burdens, in synthesizing data. To be specific, if an administrator needs to pool different data sets from Qualtrics and Google Forms (or Google Spreadsheets) into one single database, a bottleneck arises from Qualtrics’ inability to conform to Google’s standardized data structure, and vice versa. In order to eliminate this problem then, it is crucial for the key stakeholders to agree on a standardized system that is accessible to larger user group - especially one that grants access and authorization in consideration of the user’s responsibilities, not status or title - and one that can efficiently communicate or interact with data retrieved from a distinct source.

Furthermore, by conceptualizing IPE as a specialized service provider, we can then apply Huron Consulting Group’s (HURN) “Shared Services Delivery Model” to evaluate the effectiveness of various check-in systems in three ways: (i) Single Center Model, (ii) Multiple “Regional” Networked Centers Model, and (iii) Unit-based Service Model. In turn, these models serve as three different benchmarks to analyze effective utilization of an institution’s resources in accommodating front-end, or student-facing, side of its service process.

Often times, institutions such as IPE that are overseen by a parent organization, in our case the University of Michigan, operate under the Regional Centers Model in which the Institutions are sub- departments within a centralized administrative system. Although this model is useful in lowering operation expense and standardizing administrative process by assigning specialized roles for each institution/department, much of its success is dependent upon the extant system’s flexibility in adapting to changes as well as the salience of mutual interest of different groups under a common administrative network. As a result, implementing successful Regional Centers Model, especially in situations when education abroad institutions may have differing interests or goals with their governing body, requires prudent planning in consideration of potential bottlenecks from misalignment of interests or dysfunctional communication between departments.

Given the structural characteristics of IPE as a Regional Centers Model in regards to its centralized governance system and decision-making process, establishing collaborative efforts with different stakeholders and/or systems can be strenuous. This is especially the case when collaboration between involved parties cannot foster a sense of common purpose and thereby, fail to yield positive payoff for each party. In order to mitigate this problem, service providers can rely on analyzing relevant sets of data which can help the ultimate decision-makers in implementing solutions that effectively address systematic deficiencies and organizational needs. For this reason, our recommendation for an ideal system is one in which the entire ETL process as well as Business Intelligence (BI) reporting can be done on a single database network with intuitive interface to manage privacy and security.

Full report available upon request.