June 27, 2022

Faculty of Graduate Studies’ project transforms the student experience

Process and Systems Optimization project modernizes graduate student journey at UCalgary
PaSO banner with an illustration of three people working with gears and other machine parts

What can a student expect from their graduate experience at one of Canada’s top five research universities?

In addition to a transformational learning experience, a matchless range of entrepreneurial, professional development and work-integrated learning (WIL) opportunities, they might also expect a seamless, intuitive administrative experience.

With UCalgary’s graduate student population expected to crest 10,000 current students in the next few years, the Faculty of Graduate Studies (FGS) is working with partners across campus to ensure that’s what the university is delivering.

Enter the PaSO project. PaSO, or Process and Systems Optimization, is a university-wide initiative launched by FGS in May 2021 to reimagine the processes, systems and communication supporting the graduate student journey.

The polyglots among us may recognize that ‘paso’ is also Spanish for ‘step’ or ‘path’, and there are many steps to completing a graduate program — especially for students completing a master’s or doctoral thesis.

“Complicated administrative workflows can increase stress for the students, faculty and staff who comprise the graduate education community,” says Dr. Robin Yates, dean and vice-provost (graduate studies).

“In the Faculty of Graduate Studies, we’ve seen a growing need for a major leap forward in our approach to graduate administration, and now we are thrilled that the partners, opportunities and funding are aligning to make great things happen.”

Opportunities for transformation

At the time of launch, the PaSO project mandate focused on streamlining and automating processes to create a more responsive and inclusive graduate experience, while exploring ways for teams supporting graduate education to work better together. The project aligns with other pan-institutional initiatives, including the UCalgary Strong Foundations Plan announced earlier this year, and is a foundational part of the Graduate Student Journey Transformation that kicked off in June 2022.

This new initiative is supported by one-time funding from the Provost’s Office, extending a partnership between FGS, the teaching faculties, and Aligned Outcomes (AO) — an innovative Calgary-based software consulting firm. Together, the team will re-imagine the graduate student experience and enable a consistent end-to-end approach to transforming the student journey across UCalgary graduate programs.

“We have already witnessed benefits from early investments in this space,” says Dr. Teri Balser, provost and vice-president (academic). “These teams are collaborating on new ideas and effective change, and are helping to deliver on the Strong Foundations Plan and the foundational commitments of our Academic Plan: connecting communities, prioritizing people and driving innovation.”

Aligned outcomes

A leading-edge startup, AO is supporting FGS with a "digital twin" platform. In essence, AO has created a digital model mirroring the processes and systems underpinning the administration of graduate studies in order to identify problem areas thoroughly and evaluate opportunities for rapid improvements. In this unique approach the transformation design and implementation are built with and by the administrative and academic teams closest to the student.

“We know that 80 per cent of the improvement opportunities are common across all faculties,” says Yates. “We also know that 95 per cent or more of the automation improvements can leverage technology we already have. This investment allows us to expand our insights and actions to benefit all graduate programs and their students faster.”

Building on previous success

Working with FGS with a plan to expand the work to include all teaching faculties, AO is building on a proven record of success with the Werklund School of Education and Haskayne School of Business.

“At Haskayne, our team has focused on streamlining to enhance the graduate student journey. We have already identified how we will reduce the number of student journey steps by 30 per cent,” says Dr. Jim Dewald, dean, Haskayne School of Business.

With Aligned Outcomes’ coaching and advanced methodology, our Graduate Programs are empowered to ask “why” things are done a particular way with an attentiveness to enhance student experience,” says Dr. Dianne Gereluk, dean, Werklund School of Education. “Drawing from the expertise of our administrative staff, we now see a more vibrant and sustainable work environment that is seeing tangible improvements being implemented every month.”

Learn more about the PaSO project.