A scientific step toward student success

How can Information Systems help students succeed?

A Radford University information systems professor is collaborating with students on a research project that could set future Highlanders up for success.

Caleb Bradberry, an assistant professor in the Department of Information Technology, along with graduate student Jagat Dhami and undergraduate Jonathan Charnock, are analyzing different data sets that may eventually predict freshmen who are at risk of leaving the university.

Information systems is about solving business problems, Bradberry explained: "Businesses want to understand how to get customers and retain customers. Universities are no different. This is a universal problem, and we're tackling it on a university level."

The earlier struggling students are identified, the quicker the university can intervene, provide support and hopefully retain them, explained Department of Information Technology Chair Jeff Pittges, who began this project in summer 2016. Bradberry took the lead later that fall as Radford University's newest assistant professor of Information Systems.

"Caleb had an immediate impact when he joined our project, and the team has made outstanding progress under his leadership," Pittges said. "Simply put, this is exactly why we hired Caleb. His expertise in analytics and information systems is a great addition to our department."

Bradberry, who recently earned his Ph.D. in Information Systems from UNC Greensboro, brings a wealth of knowledge in health informatics that has seamlessly flowed into this latest project as well as the minds of his two research partners.

"I'm very passionate about teaching," Bradberry said. "I want to bring that knowledge to my students so they can go out into the workforce and get rewarding jobs."

The Radford research team is currently analyzing data provided by Radford University's Institutional Research, Reporting and Assessment and Ruffalo Noel Levitz, a consulting firm that specializes in enrollment and fundraising management. They have access to freshmen data from the past four years.

During the process, the team discovered an interesting connection between retention and the number of times students swipe their RU identification cards to enter residence halls.

While it's too early to present their findings, Bradberry said the team is making significant process.

"The work that these students are doing could potentially help a lot of other students be successful," Bradberry said. "At the same time, they're gaining real-life skills that are highly sought after."


Learning 'real-life, sought-after skills'

Charnock, a sophomore computer science major, is processing data using an open system called "R," a language and environment for statistical computing and graphics.

The sophisticated tool took Bradberry two years to learn at the Ph.D. level, he said.

"Jonathan has absolutely blown my mind," Bradberry said. "Everything I've asked him to do he's done, and more."

Dhami, a student in Radford University's Data and Information Management (DAIM) master's program, is using Watson Analytics, a question-answering computer system developed by IBM.

In 2011, Watson famously competed on "Jeopardy!" against two top champions and won.

"Every student on campus has access to IBM Watson analytics," Pittges explained. "So, the work that Jagat and Jonathan are doing is something that any Radford University student could potentially jump in and do."

Engaging in such a rich research experience has been invaluable, both students agreed. They've also enjoyed delving into "the unknown" and learning from each other along the way.

The fact that their research could eventually impact the academic lives of thousands of future students isn't a bad perk, either.

"This whole experience has been incredible," Charnock said. "Both Jaget and Dr. Bradberry have taught me so much. I can't wait to see where this project takes us."

Learn more about Information Systems at Highlander Days

Radford University's Department of Information Technology provides its students a unique educational opportunity that can lead to jobs in some of the fastest growing areas of the economy.

Students can earn either a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science and Technology or a Bachelor of Science in Information Science and Systems. In fall 2016, Radford University launched the Master of Science in Data and Information Management.

Representatives from the Department of Information Technology and the College of Science and Technology (CSAT) will be available to talk with students during Highlander Days on April 8 and 29.

The CSAT meeting is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. in the Center for the Sciences, room M73. Students can meet with Dr. Bradberry and Dr. Pittges in Davis Hall from 11 a.m. to noon.

Apr 6, 2017
Mary Hardbarger
(540) 831-5150