• Lauren Koski

Technology Makes Things Simple at Penn State's Office of Undergraduate Education

“They're learning the importance of being curious, asking questions, finding answers,” says Penn State’s Alan Rieck of the students applying to the Erickson Summer Discovery Grant. Alan, Assistant Vice President and Assistant Dean for Undergraduate Education, works alongside administrative expert Sally Butts to facilitate this important opportunity for students. "The umbrella of Penn State covers over 20 campuses across the state," says Alan, "and each campus has the unique opportunity to do things their own way." But distinct ownership has lead to separate systems that don't communicate. Different, disconnected technologies have created extra work and administrative headaches both across departments and within competitions. With this, hours of manual effort were often spent finding and organizing data-- effort that could have been invested in supporting students and faculty.

But InfoReady Review has changed the Discovery Grant competition for Alan and Sally. “This year’s Discovery Grant, compared to our largest year of applications previously, is 146% larger,” says Alan. “That’s more than double the number of Commonwealth Campuses, and almost tripled the applications from the past.” The increase in applications and participating campuses came without any additional work, Alan reported. “We didn’t change how we publicized anything.”

So what did Alan and Sally consider when implementing InfoReady Review? Here are the top two conditions that helped the Discovery Grant grow.

1. Make applying easy. College students today operate on fluctuating, seemingly timeless schedules, while faculty offices adhere to a more traditional schedule. For Alan and Sally, running grant competitions with paper forms brought them up against the challenge of the hectic student's schedule. "The best time for a lot of students to fill out applications is in the evening, and we can't stay after hours to collect paper forms," says Alan. "InfoReady made our competitions accessible at any time. We got applications all hours of the night; so it made the process easy as far as location AND time." Online, cloud-based processes may seem very commonplace almost everywhere, but we often take these tools for granted.

2. Choose technology that enhances communication. Administrators at Penn State also use the system to share information in ways that they hadn't been able to before. "We could ask questions of reviewers and applicants in a systematic way," says Sally. "Alan and I could also support each other during competitions because we had access to the same information simultaneously."

Penn State continues to introduce new technologies to solve a variety of challenges, sometimes replacing manual processes for the very first time. "In many ways, we are scrambling to keep up" says Alan, "but the positive is that, now, we can make more strategic choices because we have choices. We can look at the place we want to go." With the high-profile status grants at Penn State, faculty and students depend on systems that are accessible and functional. InfoReady Review is not only accessible, but integral to connecting students to crucial funding. As student programs continue to support innovation, InfoReady provides Penn State with the necessary communication between students, faculty, and administrators so scientific research endures.