T.J. Rainsford, Class of ’95, has taken over the position of Director of Information Analysis and Assessment from Matt Steele. Rainsford’s experience as a Mount alumnus, adjunct faculty member and member of the College of Liberal Arts advisory board, as well as his background as a historian, will greatly benefit him in interpreting data about the university.
As Director of Information Analysis and Assessment, Rainsford’s goal is to try to move information through the university more quickly to help support decision making. His position includes interpreting data about the Mount and providing those information resources to the departments that need it.
Interpreting data, or data analytics, means that Rainsford looks at what the trends in data mean. “At the end of the day, I see my job as being a bit of a storyteller,” says Rainsford. Data is simply a set of facts, and his job is to see the story that correlates with the facts provided and pull meaning out of them.
When asked to describe data analytics to someone with no background in the field, Rainsford described it as working on a research paper. When writing a paper, students take traditional resources and try to extract an understanding of what occurred or find similarities between sources to create a cohesive paper. Rainsford uses this same process of extracting an understanding, but instead of using books and articles, he uses specific pieces of data with technology to speed up the process. He takes bits and pieces of information and builds a cause for an idea, just as a student would build a cause for their thesis.
Before accepting his new position at the Mount, Rainsford was the Vice President and Chief Information Officer at designDATA, a Maryland based company that provided IT services to other businesses. At designDATA, he was responsible for a 55 engineer team and found great success in launching the company’s business intelligence infrastructure.
Rainsford’s multiple roles in the university have allowed him to see the Mount from many angles, with a special ability to understand the student perspective because of his alumni status. His preparation for this position started during his time as a student, and his appreciation for the university and his liberal arts education came later on. Rainsford said that many of his friendships came out of his time at the Mount and he even married a fellow Mountaineer. Accepting this position is “about giving back to an institution that is very, very important to me,” he says.
The important part of data analytics involves understanding how to make improvements from the trends that are shown. Rainsford says that there is a tendency to see analytics as what we’re doing wrong, but in reality data is neither good, bad or indifferent, “it just is.” Data is simply a point in time, “what you do with information is what matters,” says Rainsford. His goal is to use the tremendous amount of data available more effectively to help make decisions on how to better run the Mount as a business and how to support the Mount’s mission and commitment to a Catholic, liberal arts education.
Rainsford’s approach to data analytics will help university leaders to better understand what they’re doing well, what can be done better and ways we can improve. He sincerely appreciates Interim President Trainor’s message from the beginning of the school year about moving the university forward. In Rainsford’s opinion, data analytics is all about moving this fantastic institution to be even better.