Students in the University of Maryland Robert H. Smith of Business Innovo Scholars Consulting Program are helping the university implement a groundbreaking diversity initiative.
Commissioned by the Registrar’s Office, the students investigated critical issues and made recommendations for implementation of the “Policies and Procedures Governing Preferred/Primary Names and Sex/Gender Markers in University Databases.” The bill was passed in spring 2017 by the University Senate and President Wallace Loh.
The policy aims to improve students’ sense of belonging on campus by ensuring critical identity markers like name and gender are correctly represented in university databases and used by faculty and staff. Many UMD students identify with a name that is different from what is found on legal documents. This includes students who prefer to be known by Anglicized names or nicknames, as well as those who have names that do not conform to Western naming conventions. Transgender students are particularly impacted by the policy, because their primary name and gender identity may not match the data found in UMD systems. The Innovo Scholars’ research uncovered that up to 30 percent of UMD’s student population could be impacted by this policy.
During the semester-long experiential project, which was conducted in partnership with the University's Division of Information Technology, the Innovo Scholars interviewed many university stakeholders to understand the current data systems and requirements for a revised system architecture. The students also talked with administrators and stakeholders at 18 schools that have implemented similar programs to identify potential solutions and roadblocks.
At the December 13 presentation to administrators and members of the University Cabinet, the Innovo Scholars recommended a five-phase roadmap for the policy, including establishing an implementation committee of the primary stakeholders, mapping and correcting how critical data flow through databases, adopting a platform for data propagation, and developing a comprehensive communication strategy targeting students, faculty and staff.
During the presentation, three Innovo students described the difficulties and frustrations they’ve experienced because their primary name is not what appears on class rosters. “This was an amazing and personal project for us,” said Jack McGlynn. “I am excited that we were able to reenergize conversations around an issue that is important to so many students on campus.”
Luke Jensen, special assistant to the chief diversity officer for the University of Maryland Office of Diversity and Inclusion, director of UMD’s LGBT Equity Center, and sponsor of the policy, says, “The Innovo Scholars' work is helping drive the implementation of this important university initiative. It’s a fairly complex issue. But this project adds a framework for ongoing conversations to implement this policy.”
The Innovo Scholars Consulting Program illustrates that students can be a valuable resource for innovation in higher education, especially around student services, says Sandra Loughlin, PhD., founder of the program and director of Smith’s Office of Transformational Learning. “The Innovo projects seem to get more complex and critical each semester, which suggests that the university appreciates the students’ fresh approach to processes and a penchant for asking penetrating questions. It also shows that Maryland is really committed to pursuing fearless ideas, even for ourselves.”
The Innovo students also expressed enthusiasm about the experiential nature of the course. “This class is like nothing I’ve had at Maryland,” said Steph Lee. “I talk about it in literally every interview and the recruiters are amazed at how many skills I’ve had to develop. It was a ton of work, but worth every minute.”
Congratulations to the fall 2017 Innovo Scholars:
Isaac Adeeku (Manager) Marketing, May 2018
Enkhtushig “Tushig” Indersuut, (Manager) Finance and Information Systems, December 2017
Ha Yeon “Steph” Lee, Finance and Information Systems, May 2019
John “Jack” McGlynn, Economics, May 2018
Alexandros “Alex” Kyriakos Tsoulfas, Government/Politics, May 2018
Richard Vook, Computer Science with a specialization in Cyber Security, May 2018
Fiona Whitefield, Public Health Science and Economics, May 2019