UTech student management system Northstar joins USS
After bouncing around a bit, the student management system for Utah’s technical colleges and its four-member team have finally found a home.
Northstar recently joined UIT’s University Support Services (USS), adding Senior Software Design Engineer Aubrey Schrag to the Product Management/Student Systems team, and Software Design Engineers Colter Cvach, Alfredo De Leon, and Ambrose Piambo to the Student Team.
The student management system, which the Utah System of Technical Colleges (UTech) developed to track student progress, attendance, and tuition for competency-based programs, now provides software solutions for seven of Utah’s eight technical colleges, as well as Salt Lake Community College’s School of Applied Technology and Technical Specialties.
Today, Northstar’s core purpose is to provide administrators, faculty, staff, and students with access to the data they need to meet various accreditation requirements. Some features include a student data management platform, competency-based curriculum, software integrations, enrollment, and class scheduling.
As it expanded, the system shuffled among the state’s higher education organizations, most recently the UTech administrative offices and then the Utah System of Higher Education (USHE) after state legislation merged the two. In July, Northstar transitioned to USS because of its focus on software development, said Rachael Sheedy, associate director for USS Product Management and Student Systems.
“The Office of the Commissioner just felt like a better technical home for software development would be within the U because USHE also contracts with the university for HR and IT needs, and they already work very closely together,” Schrag said, although he noted that there’s little service overlap between Northstar and the University of Utah/University Support Services.
USS Engineering Associate Director Jason Moeller called USS and Northstar a natural fit, noting that both run an enterprise software development shop.
“Although their business model is little bit different than ours, there is some crossover, and we think we could provide them with a little more assistance and expertise in some areas,” Moeller said.
Currently, Schrag said, his four-person team handles everything related to the Northstar software — requirements gathering, planning, development, testing, code deployment, and support. The only thing Northstar doesn’t do is host infrastructure.
“That's what made the move fairly easy, as we’re just creating code and each college is independently managing its infrastructure,” he said.
Right now, Moeller said they’re slowly integrating the Northstar team into USS’ systems while trying to better understand the product.
“We're trying to learn a little bit, technically, on how they build and maintain things, and the processes and tools that they use,” Moeller said.
Schrag said USS staff have gone out of their way to help his team integrate with the U, figure out roles and responsibilities, and carve out something new as they decide what will be best long-term.
“What I've appreciated so far is everyone's shared understanding of keeping things kind of status quo and stable; it’s important not shake things up too quickly,” Schrag said. “… It's really more of that stability and long-term management or planning that USHE looked to take advantage of within the larger USS department compared to our four-person team.”
He added: “There's certainly a lot of established procedures and practices that we can adopt and benefit from.”
For instance, Sheedy said, she and Schrag are working with USHE to implement quality assurance (QA) into the Northstar software development lifecycle. Additionally, Moeller sees an opportunity to mature its security and service management processes, making the system more reliable and efficient for users.
Schrag said USS has been a welcome resource, sharing ideas and helping Northstar decide a path forward on a few projects, such as expanding its Canvas integration and exploring the standardization of single sign-on options. The team also is working to consolidate Atlassian products and integrate better with Tableau’s data visualization software.
Sheedy said she’s excited about working with Northstar and figuring out what the two organizations can accomplish together.
“I look forward to seeing how we can combine strengths and benefit their customers. I think that there's some definite potential,” she said.
For the moment, however, it’s essentially business as usual.
“Long-term, there's not necessarily a specific mandate, other than to make sure that the technical colleges continue to be placed first and have their needs met just as they were before,” Schrag said. “It's still the same product to them, now it's just developed under a different roof.”
Northstar serves Utah’s technical colleges, now part of the Utah System for Higher Education. They include:
- Davis Technical College
- Dixie Technical College
- Mountainland Technical College
- Ogden-Weber Technical College
- Southwest Technical College
- Tooele Technical College
- Uintah Basin Technical College
- Salt Lake Community College’s School of Applied Technology and Technical Specialties
Bridgerland Technical College does not use Northstar.
Our monthly newsletter includes news from UIT and other campus/ University of Utah Health IT organizations, features about UIT employees, IT governance news, and various announcements and updates.