Former Provost Martin A. Schmidt named Jonathan D. Schwarz as the new director of MIT Institutional Research — a group within the Office of the Provost that provides high-quality data and analysis to the Institute, government entities, news organizations, and the broader community.
Over its 35-year history, Institutional Research has provided consistent, verifiable, and high-quality data. The group was established in 1986 as part of the MIT Office of Campus Planning to support MIT’s academic budget process and space planning studies. The Institute established the group to provide a central source of dependable data for departments, units, research labs, and administrators.
Institutional Research conducts campus-wide surveys on topics that affect the community including commuting, wellness, and diversity and inclusion. Additionally, the group submits data on behalf of MIT to the U.S. Department of Education, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, the National Science Foundation, and national and international higher education rankings such as U.S. News & World Report. Institutional Research also works with peer institutions, consortia, government agencies, and rankings groups to establish the criteria that define how students, faculty, and research dollars are counted.
“At its core, Institutional Research is about counting people, money, and space,” says Schwarz. “Once Institutional Research established valid and reliable metrics in these areas, it was able to apply its deep understanding of data and the Institute to a broader range of topics using surveys, interviews, and focus groups. We collect, maintain, analyze, and report data so people can make data-informed decisions.”
One of the group’s most data-rich surveys launched earlier this month, the 2022 MIT Quality of Life Survey. Administered every two years to the entire MIT community on campus and at Lincoln Laboratory, the Quality of Life Survey gathers information about the workload and well-being of MIT’s community members as well as the general atmosphere and climate at MIT. Findings from previous Institutional Research surveys helped to inspire several campus-wide initiatives, including expanded childcare benefits, protocols for flexible work arrangements, upgrades to commuting services, and measures to address student hunger.
“Surveys give us an idea of where to shine a flashlight, but they are blunt instruments that don’t tell the whole story,” says Schwarz, who most recently served as associate director of Institutional Research, where he has worked since 2017. “We also need to sit down and talk to people and take a deeper dive to get nuance, rich detail, and context to better understand the data we’re collecting.”
As associate director, Schwarz led an initiative to integrate qualitative data collection and analysis, and played an active role in work around issues of diversity, equity and inclusion. Schwarz joined MIT as an intern and later served as a researcher in MIT’s Office of Minority Education and Admissions Office. He earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from Wabash College and served as the college’s mascot, Wally Wabash. He also earned a master’s degree in education from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and a PhD in sociology from the University of Notre Dame.
Schwarz takes over the post from his mentor and Institutional Research’s founding director Lydia Snover, who is retiring after serving MIT in various roles for more than 50 years.
“We are blessed at MIT to have a community with an engineering culture — measuring is what we do,” says Snover. “You can’t fix something if you don’t know what’s wrong.”
Snover will serve as the senior advisor to the director through 2022. A dedicated and valuable member of the MIT community, she started her career at MIT working in administrative positions in the departments of Psychology (now Brain and Cognitive Sciences) and Nutrition and Food Science/Applied Biological Sciences and served as a cook at MIT’s Kappa Sigma fraternity before she officially joined MIT. Snover has a bachelor of arts in philosophy and an MBA from Boston University.
In her capacity as director of Institutional Research, Snover was awarded the 2019 John Stecklein Distinguished Member Award by the Association for Institutional Research, and the 2007 Lifetime Achievement Award from the Association of American Universities Data Exchange.
Schwarz began his new role on Jan. 3.