Tracking the student experience: UMN analyst uses data to make a difference

Krista Soria has served as the University’s data analyst since 2010 and is responsible for administering the SERU each spring.

Research Analyst Krista Soria poses for a portrait in McNamara Alumni Center on Thursday, April 26. Soria administers the Universitys SERU survey.

Ellen Schmidt

Research Analyst Krista Soria poses for a portrait in McNamara Alumni Center on Thursday, April 26. Soria administers the University’s SERU survey.

by Kelly Busche

Thousands of University of Minnesota students see Krista Soria’s name in their inboxes every spring semester.

Soria, the University’s data analyst, sends messages encouraging students to take the Student Experience in the Research University survey so she can use data about students’ academic, civic and personal experiences to guide University services. In the midst of SERU season, many who work with Soria say she is the link between student voices and the University’s staff, faculty and administration.

“I love to study college students and the things that help them to be successful because I was a [first-generation] student, and I sort of know first-hand the challenges of being the first person in my family to attend college,” Soria said. “I really just … unpack college experiences.”

The national survey has been administered at the University since 2010, and the data is used as a check-in on how the University is doing. Soria compares the University’s results to other schools’ or uses them to identify academic or campus climate issues, among other areas of concern.

Additionally, she often works directly with campus departments and programs to target problem areas and implement new initiatives that aim to solve problems revealed by the survey results. 

Ron Huesman, associate director of the Office of Institutional Research, said that in their seven years of working together, he’s noticed Soria’s energetic approach to helping departments understand SERU data.

“She’s a believer [in SERU] … and I think she conveys it when she works with people,” he said. “If she hadn’t been [meeting with departments], and I hadn’t had the luxury of having her available to do that, I don’t think we’d have seen the impact that it’s had.”

Soria’s work with the advising department led to changes in academic advising in recent years, said LeeAnn Melin, associate vice provost for student success.

In 2015, an advising task force identified a need to expand student understanding of their advisers, with Soria’s help. As a result, the department increased access to advisers as well as students’ knowledge about advising services.

“Doing the survey is one thing, and she puts her heart and soul into that … but on the flip side, she is the champion of saying, ‘Surveys don’t matter unless we do something with them,’” Melin said.

Melin said while Soria’s SERU presentations are “entertaining,” she conveys the information in a way that resonates with all levels of staff.

Soria also uses the SERU results to identify big-picture areas of concern on campus. 

Starting in 2010, Soria found campus climate “is not great” for students of color or conservative, underrepresented first-generation, low-income, non-heterosexual-identifying and non-cisgender students.

As she shared these results across campus, more people became aware of the issue. This eventually led to the Campus Climate initiative, which aims to create an inclusive environment for all students.

“Some patterns emerge … in data. Students don’t know that we’re making these connections, but when I put them together in the data, those connections emerge on their own. And it’s sort of beautiful when that happens,” Soria said.