A ‘vast’ mission
Grisham takes on task of replacing the University’s 10-year-old Integrated Student Information System
Photo by Dan Addison
By Melinda Church
It’s difficult to imagine a better person to lead development of the University’s new student system than Charlie Grisham. His resume combines broad experience teaching thousands of undergraduates, mentoring scores of graduate students, conducting biophysical chemistry research, writing biochemistry textbooks, developing leading-edge instructional software, and serving as chief technology officer for the College of Arts & Sciences. And that’s bound to be leaving something out.
Last fall, Grisham accepted his new post as student systems director, agreeing to stop teaching, shut down his lab, and focus solely on the challenge at hand: developing the third and final phase of U.Va.’s Integrated System. At first glance, the task might sound much easier than it is. Grisham’s job is to replace the University’s 10-year-old Integrated Student Information System (ISIS) with a modern, enterprise-level administrative system that interfaces with the human resources and finance applications comprising the Integrated System’s first two components. That’s part of it, anyway.
“The student system project is so vast,” said Grisham, that the scope goes well beyond simply replacing ISIS. First, it involves examining all processes that involve students and student records in each and every school and administrative unit. That obviously includes registration and financial assistance. Not so obvious are activities in places like the Alumni Association, the development office, and parking and transportation. “I’m looking at this as a whole collection of hundreds of processes that affect the students,” Grisham explained. His charge is not only to find a technical solution for the procedures that currently exist, but also to redesign the procedures themselves to eliminate steps that don’t add value. “There are all kinds of inefficiencies and challenges,” he
Grisham said his background as a scientist is proving very useful to him in his new role, especially in his capacity to comprehend such a large project. “This is a very complex, 50-dimensional jigsaw puzzle,” he explained. “It’s not so different from some of [my] research problems.”
Grisham and his advisory committee reviewed their findings from the schools and administrative units this spring. Next, the team will look at the practices and experiences of peer institutions. Then, they will begin their search for external help in streamlining and integrating U.Va.’s student-related processes. Grisham aims to issue a Request for Proposals for vendors and technical consultants by early summer.
Anda Webb, associate provost for management and budget who oversees Grisham and the project, is pleased with his approach. “He has a vision of what he wants the system to be and sees all the possibilities,” Webb said. “To him, the possibilities are endless. Charlie has hit the ground running,” she added. “I think we’re off to a great start.”
Grisham summed up his goal for the finished product in one sentence: “Any given bit of student information should only be typed in once.” Ever. Students, he explained, shouldn’t have to write their names and ID numbers on forms over and over again. Staff in academic and administrative offices shouldn’t have to type information in if it already exists in digital form.
Students are the ultimate beneficiaries of all this work. Catherine S. Neale, a rising fourth-year undergraduate majoring in history and American studies, is one of several students directly helping to develop the project through her work on the Student System Advisory Committee. “I grabbed a group of other students, maybe eight people, and we sat and talked about the processes and what they thought could go online.” The students continue to think through their wish-list and forward their ideas to Grisham. To Neale, the choice of Grisham to lead the massive overhaul is a good one. “He’s really in touch with the students and what students want,” she said.
Though the new system will be up and running in the near term, the possibilities for useful and necessary revisions seem endless. Even after rolling out the first version, said Grisham, internal and external factors will compel alterations. Federal regulations change, schools offer new degree programs with different requirements and timeframes, and so on. To some, the requisite post-implementation reworking might sound a bit like Sisyphus and his stone-rolling doom. The tone in Grisham’s voice as he describes the “tinkering,” however, is anything but desperate. He relishes the opportunity for continued improvement. “After four or five years, you get the project up, and then say, “What if...?” V
Reprinted from the Spring 2005 issue of virginia.edu, published by ITC and available online at www.itc.virginia.edu/virginia.edu/spring05/people.htm