Navigating university advising can be overwhelming. Pathways, Pitt’s new advising platform navigated through a smartphone app, hopes to address that.
After launching a pilot phase with first-year engineering and nursing students last fall, Pathways is due to expand to the rest of the University, including branch campuses, by 2022. The platform, which is a coordinated effort by faculty, staff and academic leadership in line with the Education Advisory Board’s Student Success Collaborative platform, is designed in two parts. It includes an advising platform to handle appointments and centralize information, as well as a data analytics system for identifying trends in student behaviors and how they correlate to student success.
Students interact with Pathways through an app called Navigate Student, which allows them to schedule appointments with their adviser, get directions to different buildings on campus and seek academic help.
According to Amanda Brodish, the director of data analytics & Pathways for Success at Pitt, the University’s goal in implementing Pathways is to increase student success and retention rates across the University. One significant change Pathways is introducing is the ability for advisers to make notes after appointments that can be viewed by another adviser at a different office.
The number of students in the U.S. who choose to seek a second major, minor or certificate is on the rise, and those at Pitt who choose this path usually have to see more than one academic adviser. Often, students must serve as a link between two or more advisers who may not know the details of the other academic programs. Pathways is meant to bridge that gap for them.
“In the past, each advising unit had its own system for housing advising notes about students,” Brodish said. “[A new adviser] would have no access to … information that you had talked about with someone else.”
Pathways is currently in use by first-year and sophomore engineers, nursing students, undeclared Dietrich Arts & Sciences students and students in the College of General Studies and the School of Computing and Information. The platform is also being used by a couple of non-academic groups and services on campus, such as the Career Center, Veteran Services and Residence Life.
Claire Young, an undeclared second-year Dietrich student, said centralizing information is essential because advisers aren’t able to be an expert on each of the University’s 100-plus degree programs and careers each may lead to. Young said in her experience, first-year advisers didn’t have all the information about her planned majors — anthropology and history.
“[Advisers] don’t know what specific careers you’d want to do,” Young said. “The Career Center does know that, but you have to seek them out.”
Pathways also has the ability to analyze trends in student interests through collecting PeopleSoft data from students in the system. It uses this information to match advisees with past students who had similar interests and goals.
Devin Kiska, a first-year engineering adviser, said this functionality would allow her to make more personalized recommendations for courses to take. Kiska said she will be able to look at a past student and see what they studied or worked on at Pitt that helped them reach their goals. Then, she can recommend her current student to follow a similar path.
Pathways also uses data to provide personalized recommendations about classes and extracurriculars to student users, such as study abroad options and Outside the Classroom Curriculum credit opportunities.
The data analysis aspect of Pathways will be overseen by Othot, a Pittsburgh-based data analysis company specializing in higher education enrollment. It is already in use at a few other universities, including Temple University and Louisiana State College.
The data passes between Pitt and Othot through a secure network to ensure the safety of students’ privacy. Furthermore, Brodish said Pitt is working to allow students the option of keeping their advisers from seeing the results of Othot’s work.
Unfortunately, not all students in the pilot program feel they were familiar with how Pathways worked by the end of the program. Zach Ritchey, now a second-year physics and German major, was a first-year engineering student during the app’s pilot phase last fall. He said he doesn’t know much about what the app can do in addition to scheduling advising appointments.
“I never used that app,” Ritchey said. “I mostly coordinated with my adviser through it.”
Kiska said the students she advised didn’t use many of the app’s functions either.
“I don’t really know how much [students] know about what it does besides just help them make appointments,” Kiska said. “I think they find it convenient, as long as they just remember what it’s called.”
According to Kiska, as more students are phased onto the platform, Pathways’ functionality will increase and more data will be available to help students. Pathways is meant to make the advising experience more personalized so students can be better provided for, Brodish said.
“We’re excited about what Pathways has to offer and we think they should be excited too,” Brodish said. “Pathways is really going to enhance their advising experience.”