Student Absences due to Quarantine/Isolation: Notification Process Improvement

The return to campus in Fall 2020 posed new challenges for students, staff and faculty alike. The need for students to quarantine and isolate created not only logistical tasks for the Division of Student Life, but also student absence reporting responsibilities in the Division of Academic Affairs.

With little time to plan a thorough absence notification process, Student Health and the Dean’s Offices collaborated this past Fall by sharing lists of students on quarantine/isolation three times a week. From these lists, the staff of the Dean’s Office manually looked up each student’s schedule and then wrote an email to each faculty member informing him/her/they of the student’s attendance status. The process was labor-intensive and time-consuming. End-of-term feedback from faculty indicated that the processing delay and the varying senders and content made it difficult to understand each student’s individual status.

In January, staff from Student Health, Student Life, Information Technology, and the Provost’s Office met to reimagine the absence notification process. Some goals of the new process, they agreed, were to 1. centralize the data so that it was accurate and timely, 2. improve the speed of the notification process, 3. utilize consistent notification text, and 4. designate one point of contact for the process.

As a result of their intradepartmental collaboration, the process was finalized just in time for the start of the Spring 2021 term. In sum, student data from Medicat, the software used by contract tracers to ascertain quarantine/isolation time periods, is deposited daily in a SharePoint site. An algorithm designed by IT de-duplicates the student records, leaving only new student records for processing. These student records are combined and merged into a new template with the output of the Argos report “GEN STUDENT SECTION” to collect schedule information for the new students in quarantine/isolation. This new data set is then automatically mail merged in Microsoft Outlook to send individual faculty notification emails from a new email account named “” that was created for the process. All told, the mostly automated process takes roughly 15 minutes a day, as compared to the hours dedicated to the tasks in the fall term.

Dr. Sufyan Mohammed, Professor, Department of Communication and Media, describes how this new process has helped him track students in quarantine/isolation: “I am very pleased with the new faculty notification process that informs faculty about students that are in quarantine or isolation. I receive the notifications faster than I did last semester and it is a great way of keeping track of students that may need some extra assistance. The timely notification also gives me time to plan any makeup exams or projects the students may have missed. I also teach students from all three colleges and I am glad the process is consistent across the University. Thank you for setting up such an efficient system in such a short time.”

Article by Julie Ferguson, Registrar, Office of the Registrar and Academic Services and Nicholas Truncale ’06, G’07, Director of Student Retention

Printing safely with UniPrint

The Weinberg Memorial Library continues to offer an academic research environment while adhering to the COVID-19 protocols. The library identified the printing areas as high traffic with the users congregating while waiting to release their print jobs and retrieve their printouts. Another reason the library needed to upgrade the printing process was to improve the printing process for users. There were intermittent issues happening more frequently that needed to have a permanent fix. The library researched software on the market and found our current pay-per-print software had an upgrade that provided the best solution. UniPrint is one of the many products by Pharos Systems and the version of software eliminates the need for a release or pay station and offers a new component for “touchless printing.”

The new version of UniPrint offers users the ability to access the Print Center from any PC, iMac, tablet, or mobile device if they are using the campus network. Mobile devices require use of an app obtained from the App Store or Google Play, while other devices connect directly using a browser. Users benefits from this upgrade include.

▪ Uploading their files directly to the print queue.
▪ Previewing files before printing.
▪ Viewing Royal Card funds in the Print Center.
▪ Sending the file to print without use of the release/pay station.
▪ A “touchless” option that uses a QR Code at the printer of choice to initiate printing.

The “touchless” option allows users to change printers on the fly if they approach the selected printer to find an issue or a bottleneck. In the current systems users had to resend their job to another printer. Users printing a document containing personal information can upload the file to the print center, then print out the document while being at the printer to retrieve their document.

At present, the library is conducting a pilot program where work study students are putting the new process and documentation to the test. The results have prompted a few changes to the documentation and found small glitches that have since been addressed. The feedback has been positive with comments showing excitement for new process to be rolled out. With a successful pilot, the library has targeted the Fall Semester to go live with the process.

Article by Mary Kovalcin, Library Systems Coordinator at the Weinberg Memorial Library

Rank and Tenure Review Moves Online

The Provost’s Office has the important task of managing the Rank and Tenure and Annual Evaluation of faculty processes at the University. This process includes multiple layers of review; faculty are evaluated in the areas of teaching, scholarship and service by department members, Deans and, in the case of Rank and Tenure, the Board of Rank and Tenure. This year, the office was faced with the challenge of transforming the mainly paper-based process into a paperless undertaking. Furthermore, the office was tasked with facilitating discussions, deliberations and votes in the most confidential and private manner as possible.

The first step in the process transformation was to create an area for faculty to share their dossiers and work products with departmental colleagues. Infrastructure and Security Services, IT, created an individual SharePoint folder for each full-time faculty. The folder was earmarked with permissions and privileges to allow fellow department members and Deans to review the work of the faculty and write an evaluation. These permissions/privileges were added and removed to each faculty member’s folder based on the timing of each step in the evaluation process.

After written assessments were complete, departmental meetings were held on Zoom. A secret vote was conducted in the areas of teaching, scholarship and service. Microsoft Form templates were created and distributed to allow the vote to occur. These templates assured that only the department chair would see the results of the vote. In the last step of the process, the department chair used the information from the assessments and vote in his/her final evaluation.

All told, there were 369 evaluations done by faculty, department chairs and deans. Over 400 Microsoft Form templates were used to collect over 500 votes. 200-300 files were uploaded, shared and managed in the process.
The success of the online, paperless process can be attributed to the innovations introduced by Sharepoint, Zoom and Forms. The use of these technologies in upcoming academic years will definitely continue to be explored.

Article by Richard Walsh, Assistant Provost of Operations and Data Analytics Officer

Graduation Audits for Graduate Students Move Online!

The timing of the Spring 2020 pandemic couldn’t have come at a worse time for the Office of the Registrar and Academic Services (ORAS). Registration, grading and commencement season were in full swing. The shift to remote work required some swift thinking and quick conversions from previously paper-based processes to immediate electronic solutions in order to keep to hard deadlines.

One time-sensitive, critical procedure that needed focused attention was the review and approval of graduate student audits for degree. The audits, which were typically printed and sent to Program Directors via inter-office at the end of March and due back at the end of April, could no longer be shared in that manner.

Never one to shy away from new ideas or hard work, Traci Vennie, Senior Records and Graduation Analyst, immediately conceived of a process to convert stacks of paperwork and signature forms to an online format. With the help of IT, Traci collaborated with the Dean’s Offices to shift all student records and approval forms to SharePoint. Each college and program had their own folder of student audit information as well as a summary tracking document in an Excel format. The review status, approval queue and student record were now transparent to all users at all times; in fact, the audit for degree process allowed approximately forty (40) users to actively make updates, issue approvals, and sign off on over 300 graduation clearances in real time.

The impact of this change has been significant across all areas. Adam Szydlowski, Advisor, KSOM reflects: “Keeping up with a paper trail always proved difficult when we had so many applications spread out across campus. SharePoint allows for the applications to be kept securely in one location which keeps the need for tracking to a minimum.” In addition to the efficacies, we have realized with the ease of tracking, communication has improved from the change. Many new ideas have come to the surface, and once an idea is shared, it is fast and simple to implement changes that benefit everyone involved. Dr. Victoria Castellanos, Associate Dean, PCPS sums it up for all: “I love the efficiencies we have gained by using SharePoint!”

While there may have been an initial learning curve, the new process has been an asset to all stakeholders. Users have saved an insurmountable amount of time and resources by utilizing the electronic SharePoint platform. Traci, Adam, Vicki and others hope to keep this degree audit system in place even after campus returns to fully in-person status, and they encourage other offices to think of creative ways to use SharePoint to accomplish shared work projects.

Article by Julie Ferguson, Registrar, Office of the Registrar and Academic Services