Data@Pitt event designed for those new to analytics


Robin Leaf is an evangelist for data, and she wants to spread her message wide at Pitt. The Year of Data & Society is giving her that opportunity.

Leaf said she noticed that very few of the projects selected during the first and second rounds of Year of Data & Society funding were designed for people who were new to data sets and tools. There also weren’t many staff-created and focused projects, she said.

This led to the Data@Pitt project, which received Year of Data & Society funding during the third round and will have its first event on June 8 at the Pitt Public Health building (Zoom options will be available for many of the sessions). The program, from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., is open to all Pitt staff, especially those who are new or curious about data and data analytics tools and programs, and faculty who hold administrative roles.

Under her previous role as director of strategic academic initiatives in the School of Public Health, Leaf had to gather tons of data for accrediting purposes.

“We were trying to find ways to make make it more efficient, make it automated, and then to also share that data out within our school,” she said. This included current and graduating student surveys, number of credits taken, time to degree and more.

She worked with Nalyn Siripong from Pitt IT to create dashboards to help more easily visualize this data and to “really help the school out in creation of tools and resources and … to be that champion and that cheerleader and to also just maintain an excitement about data.”

One of the primary programs Leaf used to do data visualization is Tableau, which will be the focus of two sessions at the Data@Pitt workshop. Panels will discuss “How Tableau Made My Life Better” from a student perspective and an administrator.

In her previous role as a statistician in the Clinical and Translational Science Institute and in her job with Pitt IT, Siripong said, “I’ve met a lot of people who do a lot of work by copying data from some place and putting it in Excel and then doing a lot of work around it. And I think what we really have been trying to do is help people understand there are faster ways for us to help you accelerate your results — get end results in an automated fashion that requires minimal amount of work. You don’t have to download a file to do this. … There’s no work involved once we build a lot of our products because of the automation that happens.”

Leaf has brought her data evangelism to her new job as director of academic and department operations in the School of Health and Rehabilitation Science’s Department of Occupational Therapy, which she started in August 2021. She realized there was less understanding in her new department about what data staff have access to through Pitt’s Data Warehouse and how easily it can be shared through Tableau or Cognos or other reporting tools.

The Data Warehouse — all the data that gets entered into Pitt’s system, such as timecards and students’ PeopleSoft information — will be the topic of another session during the workshop

The workshop also will cover data storytelling and governance and democratization of data. Siripong said the Pitt Data Warehouse covers three types of information — student, financial and HR-related. The goal is to free the data to as many people as possible while still protecting privacy.

“Obviously, different people in different roles should have access to different parts of that information,” Siripong said. “We want to make sure that people have access to what they need to effectively do their job, but hopefully not stuff that they shouldn’t have access to.”

The keynote address will be by Amelia Parnell, vice president for research and policy at the National Association of Student Affairs Professionals and author of “You are a Data Person.” Her talk will be on “Cultivating a Positive Data Culture: The Importance of Planning, Relationships and Good Timing.”

“I feel like it’s the perfect message for people who are curious or unsure or want to learn more and don’t know where to start,” Leaf said.

Those who want to attend the event in person or online can register here. Leaf said about 40 people are registered to attend in person, so far, and they would love to have about 70.

“I just want to get people together excited to talk about data,” she said.

Susan Jones is editor of the University Times. Reach her at or 724-244-4042.


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