In 2019, University of Virginia President Jim Ryan’s unveiled his 10-year strategic plan,and one of his four overarching goals was to strengthen UVA’s foundation. One of the subgoals is to “recruit and support exceptionally talented, diverse and service-oriented students, regardless of their economic circumstances” (Ryan’s Great and Good Strategic Plan).
Shilpa Narayan, a current M.S. in Data Science student, is helping bring this goal to fruition as the new Assistant Director for Assessment and Data Analytics at the Office for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.
Narayan is driven by doing work that promotes equity for all minorities, including LGBTQ+, and women. She is motivated to create a sense of belonging for all students at UVA and brings with this desire vast skills in analytics and policy.
“My goal has always been to combine my policy knowledge and software background to make a positive social impact,” she said.
Narayan is a student in the online M.S. in Data Science Program, enabling her to work full-time in this new role while gaining additional data science skills as a part-time student.
Originally from India, Narayan attended Jeppiaar College (affiliated with Anna University), where she studied electronics and communication engineering. For seven years after graduation, Narayan worked as a software engineer in India for various corporate companies, working on Java and SQL related applications. While gaining valuable quantitative skills, Narayan knew this was not her long-term dream.
“I wanted to learn more about policy to make a social impact, so I decided to apply to the UVA Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy for my master’s degree,” Narayan detailed.
When accepted to the Batten School, Narayan moved from Hyderabad to Charlottesville. While studying various policy areas, Narayan realized the potential to apply her quantitative skills to higher education. During her master’s program, Narayan gained experience working in higher education as an analyst and project manager in the Office of Admissions at the Batten School. She designed marketing and communications strategies targeting prospective students, which led to a 60% increase in applications. She also analyzed data to determine the effectiveness of the volunteer center at UVA, Madison House.
“What motivates and drives her at the core is helping people whose circumstances are not equitable,” Patti Edson, Director of Admissions and Financial Aid, said. “She is a woman who wants to combine her powerful analytical skills with her deep and passionate desire to change the world for the less fortunate. She is driven by this deep empathy to do good for others.”
After graduating with a Master’s in Public Policy in 2016, Narayan wanted to continue working in higher education. She landed a job as a senior business intelligence analyst for the Institutional Research and Analytics department at UVA.
“I worked with University Business Intelligence to build student reports, dealt with different data sources, and collaborated with various departments to understand the information they wanted and built reports for them based on student data,” Narayan explained.
In this role, Narayan also led legacy reporting system conversion to a new reporting system in different offices throughout Grounds, designed dashboards for the Center for Teaching Excellence, and developed the Return to Grounds reports working with the SIS team ,which were used to provide timely reports to stakeholders across UVA such as the Provost Office, Student Affairs, and registrars at all schools of UVA.
“I gained institutional knowledge of UVA and learned more about analytics,” Narayan said. “I also realized that I wanted to keep up-to-date with technology since it is always changing, which ultimately led me to the M.S. in Data Science Program.”
She began the program in the Summer of 2020.
“The great thing about data science is the application is so broad, so you could be in any field, and apply data science skills,” Narayan commented. “With my background in software and policy and where I want to head to make changes in higher education, it just makes so much sense that I should pursue my M.S. in Data Science.”
Soon after starting the program, she came across a job opportunity with the Office for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.
“When this opportunity was posted, I was so excited because I could use the skills I am learning in data science, but it’s also in line with what I want to do, a leadership role specific to diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI).”
In this role, which Narayan began in April 2021, she is building evidence and data infrastructure to cater to our institutional needs in DEI space. She will also collaborate with departments across the university to support any data needs related to diversity, equity and inclusion.
“I am doing a lot of data analysis, because we want to look at the incoming class at UVA. What are the needs, especially for underrepresented minority, low income students, and first generation students? How can we serve them better? We want to understand student outcomes. What is the sense of belonging for minority students? How can we improve that?”
Combining social change, data science, policy, and leadership, Narayan is thrilled to step into this position and to contribute to real change and student experience at UVA. She is already applying what she is learning in the M.S. in Data Science program to her work and is eager to continue to grow as she learns more in the program.
"Data Science is so beautiful and powerful because you can get immersed in it and communicate with it so effectively and make an impact irrespective of your background, culture, language, or country,” Narayan said. “Math concepts are the same across the world and you can code in Python, Java, R and communicate about the same thing. As an immigrant, this resonates a lot with me because it gives me a great sense of belonging."