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University of Hawaii Keeps Students on Track with Tech Solution

The tech tools, which help students stay focused as they map their futures, have won national recognition for their success.

by Susan Essoyan, The Honolulu Star-Advertiser / April 24, 2017

(TNS) -- Most students who go to college say their goal is to get a job, but some just meander through school and rack up debt. Meanwhile, local employers often come up short in the search for qualified workers.


New technology developed at the University of Hawaii aims to tackle the problem by giving students, industry and the university an easy way to stay on track and in sync as they map their futures — in real time. There are two components to the effort, STAR GPS and the Sector Mapping Tool, and both have already won national recognition.

“STAR GPS registration is designed to help, like the GPS in your car,” University President David Lassner told students as the program went into effect for summer and fall registration systemwide. “It lays out the optimal pathway to your destination: the degree you have selected as your goal.”

The STAR app has been getting 30,000 hits a day, making it the most used app at UH, according to Gary Rodwell, UH information technology specialist.

Students can map out their pathway to graduation, adjusting for different majors and minors as they go along. If they sign up for a class that doesn’t count toward their major, an alert pops up noting that it is “not in plan,” and the system recalibrates when they will graduate.

“You’re welcome to take the course — it’s your decision,” said Rodwell, who works in the UH-Manoa Office of Undergraduate Education. “We are empowering them to make the decision.”

Pilot testing showed STAR, developed by Rodwell and a team of students, dramatically reduced the number of credits taken that didn’t count toward students’ degrees.

The Sector Mapping Tool, expected to debut in a month or two, digests scads of economic and employment data to help students as they figure out what they want to do with their lives. It uses data visualization and heat mapping to illustrate hot spots in the economy, which careers are taking off and which are dwindling.

Students can take an online test to see where their interests might be and what majors could suit them. They can click on any job description and find out the skills needed, pay scales, projected demand for the position in future years locally and nationally, and even which companies are hiring. The system scoops up information from “help wanted” ads regularly, along with government reports and economic data, to stay fresh.

Peter Quigley, associate vice president of UH Community Colleges, developed the tool with Paul Sakamoto, web manager for the community colleges. It incorporates data from EMSI, which tracks the labor market.

“We have every job in the state of Hawaii on our database,” Quigley said. “The problem is that it’s a huge pile of data. Our portal has organized that data in a way that’s very robust and usable.”

A STEM button highlights careers in science, technology, engineering and math. The analytics for that segment were funded with assistance from Strada Education Network.

Traditionally there has been a gulf between the “ivory tower” of academia and the world of work, Quigley noted. An English major, he learned a different approach as academic dean at Embry Riddle University, which specializes in aerospace engineering.

“Our relationships with industry were hand in hand, which is interesting, which kind of runs against the grain,” he said. “I came up in a humanities background, and the idea was to be as far away from that as you could.”

“Now the points of contact are getting much more close,” he added. That is part of an effort, both nationally and locally, to more strongly align academics and the economy.

Quigley said sector mapping can offer dynamic answers for university administrators to questions like “How does the latest proposal for a new program fit within the economic profile of the state?” and “How will students benefit?”

“The Sector Mapping Tool will benefit our academic program planning at the community colleges, and it can inform policy decisions inside and outside of the university,” said John Morton, UH vice president of community colleges. “It provides a means for the business sector and the university to identify and address future workforce needs while giving incoming students the ability to make highly informed career path decisions.”

The Sector Mapping Tool received the 2017 Bernice Joseph Award from the Western Alliance of Community College Academic Leaders at its annual meeting last month. The award recognizes innovation, problem-solving capability and potential impact on two-year institutions.

In November UH received two President’s Awards from Complete College America, which recognizes innovation and contributions to college completion efforts. One was for the initial version of STAR, the other for the “15 to Finish” campaign, which urges students to take 15 units a semester and has been widely replicated on campuses elsewhere.

©2017 The Honolulu Star-Advertiser Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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