SSTAR Lab: An innovation story from an unlikely place

talk – 20 min | Feb 3 – 10:30

Universities are responsible for preparing the next generation of thinkers and practitioners, yet have generally remained far removed from the practical work itself. Students with their sights on the working world recognize the need for real-world work experience during their college years, yet few universities offer the opportunity to meaningfully practice what is learned in a holistic, applied way.

Yet meanwhile, university administrators and staff grapple with running the “business” of the university, and would greatly benefit from the time, talents, and expertise of the students and faculty on campus. In this talk, we will examine one such educational innovation, the Student Success Through Applied Research (SSTAR) Lab at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Housed within the Office of Student Financial Aid, SSTAR is a sandbox of data—data that students can use to not simply learn statistics but practice statistical techniques, data management and data visualization with real and consequential outcomes. In its first year in operation, the lab has simplified the notoriously complex and burdensome financial aid process through Bucky’s Tuition Promise, a program that guarantees free tuition and fees for recent Wisconsin high school graduates below median family income.

Presented in tandem, the SSTAR Lab Director and Associate Professor in the School of Education, Dr. Nicholas Hillman, will introduce the SSTAR Lab and its context, and Michelle Kwasny, Design Researcher and Strategist for the University of Wisconsin-Madison Chancellor’s Office will use it as inspiration for turning the lens of innovation on higher education itself and dreaming up the next generation of applied laboratories in the field of user experience and innovation.

Michelle Kwasny

Michelle Kwasny
University of Wisconsin-Madison, United States

Nicholas Hillman

Nicholas Hillman
University of Wisconsin-Madison, United States

About the speakers

Michelle Kwasny

Michelle Kwasny

University of Wisconsin-Madison, United States
Michelle Kwasny is the Director of the Masters of Science in Design + Innovation and a Design Researcher & Strategist in the Chancellor’s Office at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. With a background in behavioral psychology, human-computer interaction, and user experience, Michelle is passionate about bringing human-centered design to some of the toughest challenges we face today—those in our cities and schools. Prior to her appointment at the UW, Michelle spent 8 years at IDEO leading service design work in the public sector and higher education.

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Nicholas Hillman

Nicholas Hillman

University of Wisconsin-Madison, United States
Nicholas Hillman is an Associate Professor in the School of Education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison where he teaches higher education finance and policy analysis. His research examines how federal student aid, state performance-based funding policies, and geography affect educational opportunity and outcomes. Nicholas also directs the Student Success Through Applied Research Lab and is an affiliate with the University of Wisconsin’s Institute for Research on Poverty and the La Follette School of Public Affairs.

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