Keri Disch arrived at WashU in July 2020 to lead the Office of the University Registrar and help reimagine the university’s registration processes in partnership with the Student Sunrise project.
What drew you to this position at WashU?
KD: I’d been an associate registrar at Northwestern University for eight years, and before that, I worked in one of the schools there for 11 years. So, I was there almost 20 years. I was ready for a new leadership position, so I had been looking at different institutions that needed a registrar.
I understand the private university space and decentralized schools really well. I love the Midwest, and I thought the opportunity to help implement a new student information system was an interesting option because every university is going to have to go through this. All of these systems are aging, they’re not in the cloud, and everyone is moving in this direction. So, I’m early enough in my career that I thought, “I’m going to have to do this at some point.”
Among my many interviews at WashU, I spoke with the interim provost and the incoming provost, who’s now our provost, and both were optimistic about this new direction for the university. They wanted to transform the records and registration process from this very siloed system where everybody’s doing their own thing. They and others told me, we think it’s difficult for our students, and we should be collaborating better, and I thought, “They’re singing my song!”
How will it benefit WashU that you and the Office of the University Registrar have been involved throughout the Student Sunrise project?
KD: At my former institution, we had some of the same student information system issues, and I was very familiar with the problems that it causes for students. Part of what’s fun about being in registrar-land is that with these systems, you can upgrade or enhance what seems like a very small thing and improve the student experience for thousands of people, and that’s really exciting work.
If we can make just one thing easier for a student, and they can just focus a little bit more on their learning and their goals instead of running around trying to figure out how to file a form, that’s really satisfying. And it’s a competitive advantage over other universities. I mean, it won’t be something that’s going to be obvious to people when they’re shopping for schools.
In an ideal world, as one of my old bosses would say, we’re like stagehands. You’re not supposed to know we’re there. We’re the infrastructure underneath, supporting the performance—all the educational services that are happening at a complex place like WashU that contribute to a student’s overall learning experience.
How will Workday Student enhance your office’s capabilities and service offerings?
KD: Right now, our office rarely communicates with students, and that will change when we launch Workday Student. We’ll be taking on more administrative functions so the schools can focus on helping students with the educational aspects of registration, like how to think about their requirements and their courses.
We look forward to providing students with more clarity about how to use our systems. For example, how to register for classes, which is a little bit of a mystery now unless schools or other units provide documentation. We’ll take advantage of some of the registration training materials that Sunrise is producing, and we’ll partner with the Workday Student support team to keep those materials up to date.
I’m also excited about changes to our degree audit process. Our office will maintain academic requirements in Workday, which the Sunrise project team is setting up now. As a student completes each requirement, their academic progress will be reflected on their record. It may not sound exciting, but it’s such a powerful tool. Our current degree audit is accurate today, but it is a highly manual and time-consuming process to get it to that point. I want it to be a 24/7 kind of thing. A student should be able to check their progress at any time and have it be accurate across their programs so they can make decisions.
As we get to the degree clearance portion, I’d like it to be a smooth coast to graduation rather than pandemonium at the end. We should be able to see very far in advance who’s on track, or when someone gets off track. Then, after we have grades in the final semester, we should be able to see very clearly which students are good to go and confer their degrees without too much fuss. Right now, it takes a monumental effort for WashU to do this.
How will Workday Student transform the student experience at WashU?
KD: I think it’ll be great that students will be able to see for themselves that they’ve completed their academic requirements. I also think it will be phenomenal for students to have all their advisors in one system. It’s going to be transformational, whether the students recognize it or not.
Having your major and minor advisors knowing about each other and using the same information, they can see if your interests have shifted enormously, and now you’re thinking about this other thing. Then your advisor in your major can say OK, good to know, I’m not going to keep pushing this thing if her interests have shifted. Instead, I can ask her about her new interests and see how I can help her think about her major differently. Students won’t have to keep repeating themselves. It will also allow us to catch students who are struggling a lot faster.
Also, I think registration will be much clearer. Right now, students can register for whatever with the only tool we have, which is waitlists. A lot of them don’t know what classes they’re getting into until later.
In Workday Student, we’ll have clear class requirements, and the system will be checking those against the data on the student. Students will be able to see that there are 15 seats in a class available for students in their major and know that since I’m in that major, I qualify for one. That should allow them to build their schedules more quickly with less manual manipulation at the back end by the department.
How will Workday Student benefit faculty and staff at the university?
KD: First, I’d like to acknowledge that the move to Workday Student will be a challenging adjustment for the university’s staff and faculty. Implementations like these can be hard and complicated. But once we’ve ironed out the kinks, the advantages will be clear.
One of the main benefits for faculty and staff will be having to do less manual work. However, anytime you add functionality, you still have to work with it. It’s different work, but it’s hopefully better work than doing things manually, like sorting through a waitlist and figuring out who’s supposed to get into a class. So, more automation and less tedium, where they can actually work more with the students and run their programs instead of worrying about remembering to go to seven screens to do these steps. I’m very excited about that.