2 recent promotions in ASU's School of Molecular Sciences poised to have positive impact on growing number of students

Ara Austin, Orenda Griffin excited to have greater impact on online students

June 16, 2021

ASU’s School of Molecular Sciences online degree program continues to enjoy success. Over the past two weeks, over 350 students from the program came to campus to participate in summer laboratory classes, a massive increase from the roughly 40 students who participated in the first summer labs for online students three years ago.

Over the past few years, the online program, which originally consisted of a BS in biochemistry, has expanded to include a BA in chemistry, a BA in biochemistry and a BS in medicinal chemistry. Online School of Molecular Sciences students continue to be successful in attending medical, dental, pharmacy and law schools, as well as a variety of graduate programs and employment opportunities. headshots of ASU School of Molecular Sciences faculty and staff members Orenda Griffin (left) and Ara Austin Orenda Griffin (left) and Ara Austin Download Full Image

The success of the School of Molecular Sciences online program is due, in part, to the leadership of Ara Austin, its manager of online programs. Austin was recently recognized by The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences with this year’s Outstanding Lecturer/Clinical Professor Award. Beginning this summer, Austin will have the opportunity to have a greater impact on students throughout The College as she steps into her new role as the director of online engagement and strategic initiatives. In this position she will work to increase the number of experiential learning opportunities for online students to better prepare them for their careers.

In her position with The College, Austin will increase opportunities for online students to learn and develop professionally through internship and research opportunities. In characteristic fashion, Austin has hit the ground running.

“I am currently working with various faculty members across the natural sciences units to offer research experiences to online students in a more systematic way. I hope that by the end of the first semester, we will have a formal plan set in place.” 

As she looks forward to the opportunities ahead, Austin also reflects on her success at the School of Molecular Sciences.

“I will certainly miss all of the (school's) staff and faculty that I have been working with to make our online degree programs grow. I would not have been able to do my job without their help,” Austin said.

In order to continue providing online students with experienced leadership, the School of Molecular Sciences promoted Orenda Griffin to manager of online programs. Griffin has been with the school since 2013, most recently as the assistant director of academic services. In this position she developed the school's advising team to support students and help them achieve their academic goals.

“I’m excited to be part of the continued growth of the (School of Molecular Sciences) degrees available to online students,” Griffin said. “I’m eager to continue to develop additional ways to increase educational access, as well as to increase engagement for our online students as Sun Devils.”

Pierre Herckes, associate director of the School of Molecular Sciences, is pleased Griffin will continue with the school in her new role.

“Orenda is very committed to the success of our students and did an excellent job leading our advising team," he said. "She is very patient, knowledgeable and always looking to find solutions to student issues while also supporting staff and faculty. I am glad that she will stay at (the school) and am looking forward to working with her in her new role as managing director of online programs for the school.”

Drawing from their experience and success, both Griffin and Austin offer advice for their successors.

“Always put the students first and listen to their ideas and concerns,” Austin shared. “I think my successes in managing the online programs have come from working directly with the online students to come up with creative solutions.”

Griffin added, “Connect with advisers, administrators and campus partners across The College and all of ASU to provide the best experience for our students. Remember to show your team how much you appreciate what they do, and have fun! The School of Molecular Sciences has many exceptional students; it is amazing to be a part of such a great place, so enjoy the people around you and the opportunities you have.”


Video courtesy of the School of Molecular Sciences.

James Klemaszewski

Science writer, School of Molecular Sciences


Graduate certificate in advanced analytics meets a critical need in higher ed

June 16, 2021

Education policy in the U.S. runs on data. Yet the amount and breadth of data available can outpace the ability of policymakers and administrators to digest it. This is particularly true in higher education administration, says Rebecca T. Barber.

Barber developed the program and teaches the coursework for the graduate certificate in Advanced Analytics in Higher Education in Arizona State University's Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College. The 15-credit online program prepares professionals to conduct advanced analytics to support data-driven decision-making in higher and postsecondary education. Chart of data on a laptop computer screen Advanced data analytics is a powerful tool for higher education professionals. Download Full Image

Barber explained why she created the program and why it’s even more valuable today than when the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College launched the program in 2016.

Question: Who was this certificate designed for?

Answer: The program teaches advanced analytical techniques up through basic data mining for administrators at all levels of higher education.

Leaders in higher ed are asking for data on which to make decisions, but there is more to providing that data than meets the eye. The best analysts understand both the data and the business processes they are analyzing. But often we bring in technical experts who don’t know the business, or we have business experts without the technological background to perform a rigorous, actionable analysis. This certificate bridges that gap. It uses higher education examples and powerful tools to teach a subject-matter expert how to gather, cleanse, analyze and report on data to improve operations in every aspect of higher ed, including identifying the most promising prospects for enrollment, keeping students on track to graduation and even maximizing donations from alumni. The power of data is getting it into the hands of the front-line analysts and helping them make the most of it.

Q: How will this certificate program make those administrators better at their jobs?

A: The certificate provides four things, each of them applicable beginning with the first course:

  • Inspiration — We start with a look at the different and varied ways data is making a difference in students’ lives. Students have taken ideas back to their own institutions and introduced the possibility to new audiences, inspiring change and making their institution more effective right away.
  • Technology — We talk extensively about the tools available and teach several industry-leading tools that students can immediately apply in their work.
  • Analytical and critical thinking — How you approach a dataset, what elements you include and how they relate to the question being asked are critical to getting the right results. From day one we work on real-world problems, learning from the instructor and from each other a set of questions to ask, items to check and pitfalls to avoid. Students in the program often start asking new and different questions that lead to better results for the institution and promotions for the student.
  • Communication — Talking about data is hard, and the more advanced the technique the more difficult it becomes. We spend a lot of time on how to explain the analysis, present it to different audiences and communicate findings. All of us have sat through dry presentations of data that neither enlighten nor inspire. The certificate teaches you how to do both.
Rebecca Barber

Rebecca T. Barber

Q: Is this certificate unique?

A: Yes. While there are other programs that address pieces of this material, they all had what I saw as a major flaw: They’re industry-specific. Business analytics programs use business examples that tend to be unfamiliar to educators, and they have high program fees, putting them out of reach for higher ed employees. Engineering programs focus on math and programming, often with high entry requirements for prior math courses. Institutional research degrees and certificates tend to focus on assessment, measurement and qualitative data — important areas, but not helpful for someone working in enrollment or philanthropy. These programs rarely talk about predictive analytics, and when they do it is often covered as one small segment of a larger class.

In contrast to these programs, MOOCs — massive open online courses — may offer some of the technical topics for a lower cost, but they often do so in a disjointed way. And on average, under 4% of students who start a MOOC finish it, suggesting that the camaraderie and accountability of a course make a difference.

Q: Before this program was offered, how did people get the skills it provides?

A: People often put those skills together in an ad hoc way: a MOOC or two, maybe a book, some technical training from a vendor, or just learning as you go was the only way to develop the skill set. They learned the underlying analytical thinking skills by osmosis. There were nowhere near the number of skilled analysts in higher education needed to support all of the data requests.

Q: Is there an increased need for personnel with the skills this certificate program provides?

A: The pandemic has drawn attention to areas in which institutions are unable to get access to the data they need to pivot quickly. The data may exist but not be available, or it might be in a data warehouse but not in a form that actually answers the questions that have come up.

But even before the pandemic, the reality of the last decade has been that higher education has been pushed to do more and more with less and less. Analysis is at the heart of accomplishing the goal of doing more. Most of the “easy” work has been done, but there are many improvement opportunities available within higher ed that require a better understanding of what’s already happening. Data is key to directing limited resources — time, personnel, money — to where they can most benefit an institution and its students.

The Advanced Analytics in Higher Education certificate program offers multiple start dates throughout the year. View application deadlines.

Copy writer, Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College