Q&A: To Build Sound Strategy, Follow the Data

Follow the data.

That’s the mindset that led Sarah Barr and Heather Campbell to careers in higher education analytics: Barr as executive director of analytics and technology solutions at the University of Chicago, and Campbell as director of analytics and data management at Princeton University.

The work, they say, is challenging, creative and ever-changing.

“As analysts it’s not only our job to create with data but also to evangelize and prove its importance,” says Campbell.

As co-chairs of DRIVE/, CASE’s data and analytics conference this March, Barr and Campbell shaped a program rich with data-driven insights. Here, they share more about their career paths, what challenges higher ed faces around data, and what they’re looking forward to at DRIVE/ (March 11-13, 2019, in Baltimore).

What’s one big challenge higher ed faces around analytics/data?


Heather Campbell

Heather Campbell: I believe the biggest challenge for higher ed is embracing the importance of building strategy based on sound analytics.

We often talk the talk, but infusing the strategic use of data into daily decision making is still hard work and at times even forgotten. [We have to] evangelize about data and prove its importance.

Sarah Barr: The sheer number of tools and technologies out there for data and analytics is mind-boggling. We hope DRIVE/ can be a place where we can help our analysts and leaders make sense of it all.


Sarah Barr

What are you most looking forward to at DRIVE/? What do you hope people will learn?

Barr: I am so excited for the DRIVE/ community to come together and learn the latest in data analysis and technology from one another. Some of the most exciting highlights this year will be around constituent and alumni engagement and the digital landscape. Communications and marketing technology is exploding in advancement and higher education and there is a lot of data to be harnessed there!

Campbell: Being with people who are passionate about the same things is inspiring. I hope that DRIVE/ will prove inspirational to all who attend and they are able to take that passion back to their institutions to keep pushing for more, better, stronger uses of data and actionable insights throughout their offices.

What led you to analytics and higher education?

Barr: I came from the field of urban planning, working in community development. A lot of my work with the city government and community organizations centered around data and how to use it to make key planning decisions. That was the jumping off point for my work in “analytics,” which was a newly developing field when I transitioned to the University of Chicago and the field of advancement. Developing an analytics program at UChicago was a lot like pulling together data and strategy (and people!) in many of the planning projects I had worked on over the years.

Campbell: I’ve always followed the data in my career path. After getting my master’s degree in applied social psychology, I worked in school evaluation and then marketing analytics prior to joining Princeton’s development office in its first analyst role.


What’s one work achievement that you’re particularly proud of?

Barr: Last year, I developed a business case for capital funding for a new system that will replace our aging technology. It was one of the most important projects I have worked on and really challenged me to make specific arguments how new technology directly benefits our fundraising.

Simply arguing for new technology because it’s cool isn’t enough. We need to be really intentional about why and how much technology can impact our organizational goals, and be realistic about the time and effort it will take to get there.

Campbell: I particularly proud of the department we’ve created in analytics and data management. Bringing together a department of application developers, data systems engineers, business intelligence and data science analysts has created some magical synergies. I am most proud of this team and the challenging, collaborative, creative work it does for Princeton advancement every day.

What’s the best part of your job?

Barr: I love problem-solving with people. We have a great team (many of whom also came from urban planning). Mapping out strategy for how to tackle a data or technology project with our partners and then seeing it come to fruition is the best part of the work.

Campbell: I love that my work and my team’s work is always changing. We are always pushing the envelope to be more innovative, more efficient and uncover new insights daily.



Find out how far you can go at DRIVE/, March 11-13, 2019, in Baltimore.

Create your own conference experience by exploring these five tracks:
next gen prospect development, industry trends, fundamentals, data science, and alumni engagement.

Register by Feb. 8, 2019, and save.

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