Premier 100 IT Leader: Gerry McCartney

Putting the power of big data to work, this university CIO is helping students reach their potential.

Purdue University wants its students to succeed, and it's using big data to make that happen.

For the past six years, the school in West Lafayette, Ind., has used a tool called Signals to predict how students would perform academically. But administrators knew more could be done, so they decided to build a new tool, called Students Like Me. Set to launch this fall, Students Like Me will interpret a wealth of data and use sophisticated algorithms to help students plan their college careers.

Leading the Students Like Me charge is vice president for IT, system CIO and Oesterle professor of IT Gerry McCartney, 58, who sees big data as a tool "to demystify the college process for students." Students Like Me will look at a student's academic history, personal interests, demographics and stated career goals. Then, using recommendation-engine technology, it will suggest classes and extracurricular activities that will provide that student with the best path for success. With the tool's guidance, students may graduate sooner than they might have otherwise, and that will lower the overall cost of their degrees.

McCartney says an administrative reorganization that moved the university's Office of Institutional Research into the IT department helped refocus the IT group on data and business intelligence services and away from hardware and software provisioning.

He thinks it was a good move. "This is a key moment for IT folks," McCartney says. "People who stay with hardware are going to become irrelevant. In the long throw of things, the actual value of IT people will be around their use and manipulation of data."

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