Spotlight on Strategy with Dr. Leah Ewing Ross

At the IEHE, we are always excited to have the opportunity to highlight the incredible work being done by our colleagues. As part of the launch of Data Strategy in Colleges and Universities: From Understanding to Implementation, edited by our own Kristina Powers, we’re bringing you a series of profiles of the higher education professionals who share their knowledge and expertise in the book.

Head shot of Leah Ross

Leah Ewing Ross serves as Senior Director for Research and Initiatives at the Association for Institutional Research (AIR). She co-wrote Self-Appraisal of A Data Strategy (Chapter 6) with Jason R. Lewis and Stephan C. Cooley which focuses on several questions, including:

  • Why do we do this work?
  • What do we seek to achieve?
  • Who is involved?
  • How is a self-appraisal accomplished?

Key Chapter Takeaways

“The why always matters,” says Leah. In any data-related pursuit, it’s easy to focus on all things technical and process-related, and to lose sight of the why. She and her co-authors believe that the data strategy itself has to be grounded in the why of higher education – student success. Without that foundation, we risk doing things for the sake of doing. Too many data conversations seem to take place without the word “student” ever being uttered.

Leah Ewing Ross On the Process of Writing

Leah explains that she does some of her best writing on airplanes, saying that there’s something about the enclosed space and the quiet hum of noise-canceling headphones that helps her focus. But often ideas come when she’s working on other projects, cooking, running, or going through the mundane tasks of everyday life. She knows her writing benefits from opportunities to come back several times to find connections that weren’t apparent earlier. On the process of writing, she says:

“I love to write and edit. Even my worst days of writer’s block are better than my days without writing. The most rewarding aspect is the opportunity to gain feedback from others before I finalize a piece. Not only does it ensure clarity of message, but I often gain new perspectives through the comments and advice I receive.”


An Excerpt from Data Strategy in Colleges and Universities:

Excerpt from Chapter 6 of Data Strategy in Colleges and Universities: Data strategies support decision making to accomplish institutional goals. However, if an institution has not defined its goals and clearly articulated its mission, a data strategy cannot exist. If an institution has not mapped out its destination (that is, what it seeks to achieve), knowledge about where the institution is right now simply does not matter because the information is floating without context or direction.
It is not sufficient for a college or university to have a plethora of available data and a well-organized data strategy that “looks good on paper.” Data are virtually meaningless unless used as part of a strategy grounded in the institution’s goals. Otherwise, the institution’s progress toward achievement of its goals is elusive.
The transformation of data into information that supports decisions can help lead the institution to better outcomes. Just as landmarks guide a traveler, data and information serve as route markers or indicators of an institution’s progress toward fulfillment of its mission. Self-appraisal adds value to a data strategy when it is firmly rooted in a framework of clearly defined institutional goals.

Want to read more? Order your copy of Data Strategy in Colleges and Universities: From Understanding to Implementation now! You can also read more about the chapter authors and an extended excerpt from the book.

Where and when do you write best? Do you craft your best work when you’re focused on that task alone, or do you sometimes generate ideas more easily when you’re engaged in other things, like Leah? Tell us about it in the comments below.




The Institute for Effectiveness in Higher Education (IEHE) innovates and improves higher education standards through our strategic research, publicly available resources, and partnerships with colleges and universities. We provide extensive expertise on data strategy, IPEDS, institutional research and student success to drive institutional effectiveness.