CAB Spotlight on Kim Diawara and Chris Akers

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CAB Spotlights help you get to know the current Client Advisory Board members. The CAB serves as a liaison between CollegeSource and the community of professionals using CollegeSource software to maximize the higher education experience. Each spotlight is presented in a “Q&A” interview style and provides insights into CAB members’ institutions, what they are passionate about, and their perspective on issues within the higher education community. Additionally, CAB members may share anecdotes, advice, and what they have learned from being on the CAB.

We hope that these articles give you a new way to connect with the CAB and appreciate why each member was selected to represent our user community. In this portion of the series, we are excited to highlight two members.

Meet Kim Diawara and Chris Akers. And, if you have some time, check out their presentations at the recent 2021 CollegeSource Virtual Conference:

▶️  uAchieve and Transferology: Setting Up for Success
Kim Diawara, UC Boulder and Shelly Jackson, CollegeSource

▶️  Using uAchieve to Hand Out Diplomas Less Than 24 Hours From Final Grades
Chris Akers, Virginia Tech


In the Spotlight: Kim Diawara

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Kim Diawara is the Sr. Assistant Director / Transfer Credit Manager in the Office of Admissions at the University of Colorado Boulder. She currently oversees the initial transfer credit process and systems integrations and has been in her current position for over 22 years. UC Boulder uses the PeopleSoft student information system (SIS) and utilizes TES, Transferology, uAchieve Degree Audit, and uAchieve Planner from CollegeSource.

Do you participate in any associations, industry conferences, or online groups? How does interacting with your peers from other institutions help you perform your job more effectively?

I am a member of AACRAO, RMACRAO, and a couple of local committees. Networking allows for discussion of not only current state issues but also issues nationwide. The one thing that I have learned is that everyone does transfer credit differently. Having these discussions is a way to learn what others are doing and improve what we are doing.

What advice can you offer first-time attendees or users trying to decide about attending the CollegeSource annual conference? What should they know before they go?

ATTEND every session you can!!! It is a great way to learn more about how your peers are doing things and a chance to have those one-on-one conversations with CollegeSource staff. The one tip that I would say if you have questions, ask. No matter how entry-level or advanced the question may be, there are people who can help you.

What have you learned about being on the CAB? Why might you encourage others to apply?

CollegeSource staff really do care about their clients. Being on CAB, I now have a better understanding of how enhancement requests are prioritized and can provide input in that process. I’m able to listen to client concerns and provide that feedback to CollegeSource. Lastly, I would say that I can help make a change, which is one of the reasons I applied to the open position. I would encourage others to apply if you are interested in representing the clients and being a voice to CollegeSource.

Reflecting back over your years in higher education, what do you see as having changed in higher ed that may not be understood or apparent to someone from the outside or who has just joined the community?

I think technology has had considerable impacts in recent years for higher education. When I first started working with transfer credit, it was paper files, and transfer evaluations were mailed out to the student. That was followed up with several more mailings of the update to the evaluation. This was a process that could take a long time depending on where the credits were coming from. Nowadays, transcripts are sent electronically, and students are able to see how their credits may transfer or find replacement courses 24/7. Students who normally would not be able to travel to campus can now have virtual tours or appointments with an advisor and view their degree audit instantly.

What is the best thing about your job? The most challenging thing?

Helping a student or parent understand the process and making it a smoother transition is pretty great. I would say that working with Transfer Credit is both the best thing and the most challenging thing. Just when I think I have things figured out, then changes come along, and we have to adjust/adapt for the changes.

Why CollegeSource? What do our products do for you that is critical to your and your student’s success? How are the products used well at your institution?

Transferology has really decreased the workload for students who submit information to get courses preapproved. Being able to display the course evaluation has been great but also now having the ability to search by a replacement category is awesome. This provides the student with so many more opportunities to find just the right fit. The other feature of Transferology that has helped us is being able to display our Pathways with the community colleges. We are able to tell students to create their account, enter the courses to see how they will transfer, and then view the pathway to see what additional courses they need to complete. The last feature that has helped us is the glossary messages. This allows us to tell the student how the credits would apply toward requirements for those courses that don’t have a direct equivalent. It also allows the student to search that same requirement in the Find a Replacement Course side.

What is something fun that the community might want to know about you?

I’m really shy around people until I get to know them. I love to watch true-crime TV shows.

 


In the Spotlight: Chris Akers

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Chris Akers has been with Virginia Tech (VT) for 8 years and is the Senior DARS Encoder in the Office of the University Registrar. Currently, he manages the maintenance and improvement of the degree audit system and planner. Additionally, Chris is a liaison between other staff and technical staff on a variety of non-uAchieve issues. Virginia Tech uses the Banner SIS and TES, Transferology, uAchieve Degree Audit, and uAchieve Planner from CollegeSource.

What advice can you offer first-time attendees or users trying to decide about attending the CollegeSource annual conference? What should they know before they go?

I would recommend coming prepared with a few questions that need to be answered. These need not be huge issues but ones where solutions can be quickly implemented for a visible impact. With budgetary concerns, my priority is to ensure I leave the conference with at least one ‘flashy’ change that can be implemented. For example, I returned from one conference able to implement a new exception type that solved an issue many people had experienced. There is so much to learn at these conferences. Still, it is not always immediately evident, and sometimes a session may be irrelevant to you for a number of years – then suddenly you realize that there is a way to leverage the techniques presented there for a need.

What have you learned about being on the CAB? Why might you encourage others to apply?

So much. But I think the most surprising is that CollegeSource really does look on the community as a family – it is not just lip service. They genuinely want to deliver a quality product that helps institutions.

Reflecting back over your years in higher education, what do you see as having changed in higher ed that may not be understood or apparent to someone from the outside or who has just joined the community?

The need for data. In just the past 3-4 years, the amount of data requested by upper management has grown immensely. Often, this data is only possible due to the degree audit system. We continue to leverage the audit to provide more and more data and services.

What do you see as a recent trend or on the horizon for higher ed? What problems do you think it will have to solve?

The return on investment of a college degree is becoming questioned. I think this is going to lead to faster completion rates for students and more data-driven decisions for universities.

What is the best thing about your job? The most challenging thing? 

The best thing about my job is the puzzles. I move from one problem to another, tasked with making uAchieve produce the required results. All of this is done within the existing framework. I currently keep a list of projects with tentative timetables (my next three years are planned). So I get to move from one puzzle to the next – and yet every day is a new challenge.

Do you have any sayings—personal mottos your colleagues would know by heart because you frequently apply it at work? What does saying it accomplish for you?

Ain’t it fun? or Fun day! There are always going things that aggravate and upset us. I choose to make one of these sarcastic comments and look forward to the solution instead of wallowing in the problem. The solution may not work, but doing nothing is certainly not helping the situation – so why not try?

Why CollegeSource? What do our products do for you this is critical to your and your student’s success? How are the products used well at your institution? And what are the opportunities you have yet to tackle with them?

Honestly, VT has used these products since the early 1990s – well before I had any say in the decision. That being said, when individuals speak of switching to another system, my response is always the same – show me an audit with more power. We have yet to face an issue that can’t be handled by uAchieve – even if it requires a temporary workaround while an enhancement is being developed. I think most institutions, and I know VT, use less than 50% of the full power of the software. We use it to automate degree clearances for graduation, to support athletics, advising, and a number of other initiatives. I just recently finished a request to provide our College of Engineering students with an audit to determine if they qualify for restricted majors. There is always a new way to use the software just around the corner.

What is something fun that the community might want to know about you?

When things do go wrong, I blame Diane. She was simply someone that refused to help me once at an airport – now everything is Diane’s fault.

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