History of STARS

The following is a short history of the Student Tracking, Advising, and Retention System (STARS) and related Student databases at Wayne State University (WSU). It is intended to give a context for current activities and credit to those who have contributed to the effort over the years.


  1. Before the Birth of SRAS/STARS
    1. 1980's and 1990's
    2. Local Database Systems
    3. SIS System 1998-2001 and SCDDS
  2. Academic Affairs Initiative, SRAS is Born
    1. Initial Stages (1999), SAAS becomes SRAS
    2. Developments in 2000
    3. Developments in 2001
    4. Developments in 2002
  3. Transition to a Banner-Based Web Application
    1. T&ER Web Referral Application (2000-2003)
    2. Banner, the Datamart, and E-Reports (2002-2003)
  4. SRAS/STARS in 2003
    1. SRAS WI
    2. Funding of SRAS
    3. The Move to OIA
    4. SRAS to STARS
  5. STARS Development in 2004
    1. User Survey (Winter 2004)
    2. Online Code of Responsibility (February 2004)
    3. Linking into Testing Database in T&ER (March 2004)
    4. OISS and I-20 Processing (Winter to Summer 2004)
    5. Issues Synching the Datamart and Banner (Winter 2004 forward)
    6. Stars Demo (Summer 2004)
    7. Stars Administrative Site (Summer 2004)
    8. ODS Replaces Datamart (Summer 2004)
    9. Creation of Derivative Census Files for OIA and Stars (Fall 2004 forward)
  6. STARS Development in 2005
    1. Cohorts and Retention (Winter 2005 forward)
    2. New Stars Server (Winter 2005)
    3. Continued Development of Reports and Web Pages
  7. STARS Development in 2006
    1. Partnership with the Registrar's Office (Winter 2006)
    2. Stars Reports Converted to Banner Production Data Source (Summer 2006)
    3. Degree Audit (Fall 2006 forward)
    4. New Report Paradigm (Fall 2006 forward)
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1. Before the Birth of SRAS/STARS

a. 1980's and 1990's

In the 1980's and the 1990's, the focus of WSU as it related to data was twofold: administrative requirements (business operations) and official reporting. Academic uses of data were considered secondary, largely due to limited resources (hardware, software, and available expertise).

Prior to 1998, WSU had a mainframe system called the Tele-Processing system (TP) that was geared to doing business during each semester. While some mainframe data files consisting of end-of-semester term grades and registration detail were saved, these computer files were not kept updated beyond one term. Changes in grades, degree completion, student status, etc. were manually made to the paper transcripts of students. Also, many units within WSU developed local database systems to maintain WSU data and supplement it. Some of these systems are still in existence and are used in parallel with the official Banner system.

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b. Local Database Systems

The Graduate School maintained a simple flat-file database for Ph.D. students since the mid-1980's. In 1996, they converted these files to a Microsoft (MS) Access database for Ph.D. student records (the Ph.D. database). This system provided basic Ph.D.-related information such as advisor name, dissertation title, defense date, and other milestone dates. Plan of Work and other detailed information were still kept in paper form. (Steve Salley)

The Mathematic Department developed a family of database applications to maintain instructor, class, student, department and uniform final exam data, and to support the department website and statistical analysis of student performance relating to the Emerging Scholars Program (ESP). (Robert Berman)

The College of Nursing developed a database management system to maintain data relating to the special requirements of the college. (Clark Frazier)

The College of Engineering created a database application to support advising called the Student Advising Assistant System (SAAS). (Steve Salley, Paul Clemens, Andrea Eisenberg)

The Computer Science Department developed a database system to maintain data for their graduate program. (Farshad Fotouhi)

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c. SIS System 1998-2001 and SCDDS

In 1998, WSU converted from the TP database system to a more comprehensive Student Information System (SIS). The new system was designed to maintain data across semesters but did not lend itself to flexible client-server interaction.

Significant lobbying by the schools and colleges for better information access led to the creation of the Schools and Colleges online Database Distribution System (SCDDS) in 1999. This development effort was led by Jeff Dunn and James Boyer with the support of Morris Reynolds at the WSU Office of Computing and Information Technology (C&IT). SCDDS was a data warehouse that provided uncomplicated access to education records contained within SIS. The data were provided in MS Access format and were separated into college-level files for college use. SCDDS also provided official census files of enrollment data. Members of the SCDDS users group included Gwen Smith, Imran Javaid, Bob Truman, Andrea Troutman, Gary Kingins, Larry Zimmerman, Mike Koltuniak, Barbara Dayton, Steven Siconolfi, Geralyn Stephens, Byron Clemens, Linda Johnson, and Stuart May. A number of the local College and Department systems took advantage of this data source.

In Spring of 1999, Robert Berman organized the a family of applications he created for the Mathematics Department with SCDDS as data source to form a systematic database management application. He partnered with Frank Westerveldt, Chair of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE), who had a substantial knowledge of computer hardware and networking. Together they wrote a proposal to expand the system for use by the Colleges of Engineering and Science, and ultimately more widely throughout WSU. The proposal was entitled "Wayne State Student Communication (WSSC), A Retention Database System Integrated Seamlessly with University Data with Applications to Automated E-mail Services and Web Reporting". It suggested capitalizing on a new atmosphere of cooperation between C&IT and the academic units and the greater availability of hardware, software, and data. (More ...)

In a similar time frame, there was a separate initiative spearheaded by Steve Salley in the College of Engineering to support advising and student mentoring. The application also was to address graduate program issues such as advisor identification, Plan of Work, examination results, etc. They hired a programmer, Udaya Chapalamadugu, to design an MS Access application. Shortly thereafter, William Hill in Academic Affairs arranged for his office to contribute funds to support these efforts. The application was called the Student Advising Assistant System (SAAS). Along with this a pilot version of a Plan of Work (POW) was being developed.

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2. Academic Affairs Initiative, SRAS is Born

a. Initial Stages (1999), SAAS becomes SRAS

In the summer of 1999, Associate Provost for Assessment and Retention Jack Kay at the request of the interim Provost Marilyn Williamson set out to work with the schools and colleges to improve the availability and use of data related to retention of undergraduate students. To this end he assembled a working group consisting of individuals having knowledge of retention practices and/or database construction and use.

In connection with this initiative, a review of the uses and the development of SCDDS was conducted. (More ...)

After a number of meetings, demonstrations, and discussions, it was decided that the group would focus their efforts on developing the SAAS application in the College of Engineering into a more general system to be renamed the Student Retention Advising System (SRAS). In the Fall of 1999, the SRAS project was initiated with Robert Berman as project coordinator. The goal was to develop a user-friendly database system primarily for facilitating the advising of undergraduate students. Using SCDDS for input data, SRAS provided much of the information that was in SIS in a user-friendlier, accessible format while also providing additional utility that was not available in the central system. For instance, advising referrals and notes could be managed through the SRAS application. Likewise, detailed curriculum requirements could be maintained and tracked within SRAS. The Plan of Work application also was considered for possible inclusion in the system.

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b. Developments in 2000

In Winter 2000, the key players involved in the SRAS project were Robert Berman, William Hill, Steve Salley, Morris Reynolds, Jack Kay, Jeff Dunn, and Frank Westerveldt. There were also many other SCDDS users and IT support personnel that contributed in a variety of ways. Morris Reynolds led the effort to create a charter that stated the objectives of the group as follows:

Primary Objective: To improve retention of WSU undergraduate and graduate students through better use of university data readily available through the SCDDS (Schools and College Database Distribution System). The application, known as the Student Retention Advising System (SRAS), will enable academic faculty advisors to easily assess student progress toward established curricular objectives, provide students with thoughtful choices, alert students to potential pitfalls and problems, and, thereby, help retain students.

Secondary Objective Provide basic retention reports for administrative purposes intended as an important by-product of SRAS.

The project purchased 3 servers and an external backup tape drive which were housed in the College of Engineering with the Windows NT 4 Service Pack 5 operating system installed on each. (Robert Kakos, Cliff Stallings, and John McBride provided server support.) The setup was:


The SRAS databases were configured in a client-server setup and all databases were MS Access. Udaya Chapalamadugu worked on developing the pilot version of the expanded SRAS program for Engineering.

Robert Berman, Udaya Chapalamadugu, William Hill, and Steve Salley also developed a presentation entitled "A Student Advising Database Application Based on University Data" given at the WSU Teaching in the New Millennium Conference in March 2000 sponsored by the Teaching, Learning, and Technology Roundtable (TLTR) at WSU. This talk discussed the role of SRAS in the overall retention efforts of WSU and gave specifics of how the MS Access application worked. At that time, TP data prior to 1998 was not available in SIS and SRAS was able to make some of these (static) data available. Backup tapes of archived student grades from the period from 1991 to 1997 were downloaded into the SRAS database and made available to users. Also, SRAS had a very basic Curriculum View interface designed to serve as a primitive Degree Audit system, though this had limited use.

By Summer 2000, the application was evolving. Context sensitive Help was added throughout the application both at the form and field level. Udaya Chapalamadugu hired a Database Administrator (Guru Singh) for the project. Windows NT was the operating system and Oracle 8i for NT replaced MS Access as the SRAS backend database. Jerry Guttovz provided helpful documentation for the migration process. In order to communicate the data to the SRAS front end, it was necessary to install an Oracle client and create an Open Data Base Connection (ODBC) based on Oracle Drivers on each PC using SRAS.

Development work on SCDDS was going on simultaneously. An "All" database was created to accompany Engineering and Mathematics databases. Pilot versions of SRAS were then built for Engineering, Mathematics, and Nursing. Initially there were some challenges passing data from the MS Access data source SCDDS to the Oracle SRAS backend.

The Menu System of SRAS at this time was the following:

In the Fall of 2000, there were discussions about the impact of the conversion to Banner and the purchase of the Banner Datamart from SCT. One discussion dealt with the maintenance of testing data. Eventually, it was determined that some would be entered into the Banner SOATEST table while the remainder (such as qualifying and GRE data) would be maintained on the the Department of Testing and Evaluation Research (T&ER) Microsoft SQL Server database.

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c. Developments in 2001

The following development plan was proposed in Winter 2001:

  1. Complete the scaling up of the application and reports module to a full university Oracle Database. Reports would be added whenever requested and feasible. Report specifications would be collected.
  2. Complete a backup and training instance of the database.
  3. Add Secondary Program Plan
  4. Continued maintenance of the Servers in Engineering
  5. Include Applicant data
  6. Improve screen for verification of prerequisites
  7. Implement the Plan of Work Module (at the time being subsidized by Engineering)
  8. Add testing data screens (placement, proficiency, etc.) by building a system for migrating data from testing databases to SRAS. Donna Alexander and Tom Wilhelm would be integrally involved in this.
  9. Add a web referral component of the type being developed by T&ER. The plan was to improve and scale up the existing test version.
  10. Begin the process of blending SRAS with Banner to provide custom functionality geared towards retention and advising at WSU

A university-wide version was to be developed in 2001.

A Banner Advisory group was established in Winter 2001 to discuss how Banner might be implemented most effectively to support advising efforts at WSU. Initially there was a discussion of the advising practices at WSU, determining the core practices that are fairly universal, and a review of relevant Banner modules by the Banner consultant Denise Erickson. Finally, recommendations were formulated how to implement Banner to support advising at WSU.

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3. Transition to a Banner-Based Web Application

a. T&ER Web Referral Application (2000-2003)

Around 2000, T&ER managed by Thomas Wilhelm was working on a web referral application (WEBREF) . Donna Alexander and Z. Quian were included on the project. The problem it was addressing was to streamline the practice of using multi-part paper forms for student referral and tracking. WEBREF was designed to allow online referral between specified Student Development and Campus Life (SDCL) offices via the web. A common database was to be used for storing information of related offices and keeping track of the referral status of students.

In discussions with the SRAS group it was decided that attempts would be made to integrate WEBREF into the project. WEBREF was written as an ASP (Active Server Pages) application based on Visual Basic Scripting Langauge (VBScript) with a backend database of Microsoft SQL Server. Sathish Vemana worked on this project and related ones from Summer 2001 until Summer 2003. This application was not actually implemented directly in SRAS, but parts of it were incorporated into the comment pages. It also was the starting point for the replacement of the MS Access front end with an ASP web front-end to SRAS.

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b. Banner, the Datamart, and E-Reports (2002-2003)

In the Fall 2002 semester, WSU switched to a new integrated database system, the SCT Banner system, which is presently the most widely used student records system in higher education. Banner has the capability to perform a greater number of functions than SIS, such as curriculum rules and tracking, prerequisite checking, and degree audit. At the time, these higher-level features were not implemented in the WSU system. Likewise, while Banner is web-based, it did still does not provide a user-friendly interface for student advising and other specialized uses and was not designed to handle many graduate student information needs. Initially, data going back to the implementation of SIS in 1998 was converted to Banner (with the exception of Registration detail). Since then almost all of the pre-SIS transcript data has been converted. With the switch from SIS to Banner, the SCDDS system was abandoned. In its place a Datamart was implementted. It was updated nightly from Banner and contained a variety of "Views" of the data. A reporting tool called Discoverer was implemented, allowing the creation of web based E-reports consisting of information from the Datamart. Access to these E-reports was permitted to users across WSU on an as-needed basis and assisted in meeting many of the reporting needs of the Schools and Colleges. Some of these reports were implemented in SRAS.

In 2003, the Graduate School created several E-reports for the use of graduate chairs at the program level and a number of them were also implemented in SRAS. (More ...)

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4. SRAS/STARS in 2003


In January 2003, Robert Berman created a pilot web-based rewrite of SRAS, referred to as SRAS WI (Web Interface), based in part on the WEBREF ASP application. The mechanics of the SRAS WI application was quite different from SRAS since since Banner and SCDDS had very different data structures. Marianne Krupka and the University Advising Center (UAC) staff (including Anita Carter and Karen Gurney), Jack Kay, Steve Salley, William Hill, and Donna Alexander helped in testing it. This was to be compared to the Banner-delivered Web For Faculty module which provided an online advising transcript. During the Winter of 2003, the pilot was publicized more widely to users including Victoria Corriveau, Martha Ratliff, Kenya Maxey, Geoff Nathan, Lezlie Stivale, Tyrone Austin, Tom Wilhelm, Anne Walters, Barry Becker, Janice Douglas, Arnelle Douglas, Jerry Lessins, Felice Grace, Rick Earnest, and Helen Wilson among others.

The main areas of SRAS WI were:

The site allowed AccessID/Password logon, a feature worked on by Sathish Vemana.

At that time the standard MS Access version of SRAS was still actively being used by Engineering (Jerry Ku, Andrea Eisenberg, Paul Clemens and Patrina Carper) for their data. The reporting module had not yet been ported over to SRAS WI. In January 2003, Prashanth Nutakki (who completed his Masters in Computer Science at WSU) began work on SRAS. During 2003, he worked on the conversion of reports along with the downloading of Banner as well as Early Academic Assessment (EAA) data into SRAS. At this time Udaya Chapalmadugu was also still contracted to work on the SRAS project and was working with Prashanth Nutakki. SRAS Reports were implemented with a desirable drill-down capability; that is, when a list of students is returned by a report, there is an active link from the Student ID which when clicked opens up the SRAS Student Profile for that student. No such capability had been implemented in Discoverer E-reports.

In Winter of 2003, at the suggestion of Tom Wilhelm and Donna Alexander, Robert Berman integrated the ACT Profile into the SRAS Test page enabling (1) authorized SRAS users to see all student ACT Profiles and (2) individual students to see their own.

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b. Funding of SRAS

By the end of the Summer of 2003, there was no longer any formal funding for the SRAS initiative. At that point, the "begging" funding model was adopted whereby voluntary contributions were accepted from Departments and Divisions who benefited from the existence of SRAS or wanted to underwrite specific development activities. Contributors included Academic Affairs, the Graduate School, the College of Science, and the Medical School.

c. The Move to OIA

In the Summer of 2003 we moved the SRAS database onto a new (faster) server in the Office of Institutional Analysis (OIA). At that time both SRAS WI and the MS Access version were still in use. Server maintenance was handled by John McBride, Rajeev Sadasivan, Brian Rottermond, and Prashanth Nutakki.

In September of 2003, Prashanth Nutakki was hired by OIA, where Robert Berman was Interim Director, and continued his work on SRAS on a overtime basis. Also, a fair amount of time was freely donated by project personnel for continued development. A number of individuals gave valuable input and support of SRAS. These included Hilary Ratner, Lowell McCoy, Krista English, Kenneth Palmer, Debbie Casebolt, Linda Ludke, Joe Kieleszewski, Laura Woodward, and Carole Barduca among others.

In August of 2003, Wuhong Lu moved from T&ER as a graduate student assistant to work on SRAS. She became an important contributor to the project.

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In August of 2003, we changed our name from Student Retention and Advising System (SRAS) to Student Tracking, Advising, and Retention System (STARS), The new name was much perkier, easy to remember, and sounds less like a potentially lethal disease.

In the Fall of 2003, the Stars team did presentations to publicize Stars in such venues as the Associate/Assistant Deans Forum and the College of Fine, Performing & Communication Arts (CFPCA) chairs. The set of users began to grow significantly.

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5. STARS development in 2004

a. User Survey (Winter 2004)

In the early Winter of 2004, William Hill led the effort to create a user survey to help improve the Stars system. Useful feedback was obtained.

b. Online Code of Responsibility (February 2004)

STARS contains student educational data that are subject to privacy protections under the 1972 Federal Educational Right to Privacy Amendment (FERPA). Working with Jeff Dunn, Genetha Smith, Eric Dau, and Scotia Roopnarine, we were able to incorporate into the Stars logon a check that the user had accepted the online Code of Responsibility (COR). Acceptance of the COR was done through WSU Pipeline.

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c. Linking into Testing Database in T&ER (March 2004)

The T&ER SQL Server database for test scores was set up and made available for Stars to link into. IT support in T&ER was provided by John O'Meara.

d. OISS and I-20 Processing (Winter - Summer 2004)

Prashanth Nutakki, Lily Zhang, Steve Salley and Wuhong Lu worked on adding database tables and a report to Stars to integrate an OISS (Office of International Student Studies) I-20 processing database application with Stars.

e. Issues Synching the Datamart and Banner (Winter 2004 forward)

A number of apparent data anomalies were uncovered which actually related to the timing of the updates of the Datamart. This and the need to maintain a large number of custom table snapshots in the Datamart suggested that using the Datamart as a data source was a less than optimal choice compared to Banner.

f. Stars Demo (Summer 2004)

A demo copy of Stars was created with "scrambled data". Currently this is not operative (owing to the fact that maintenance is necessary) but may be revitalized in the future.

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g. Stars Administrative Site (Summer 2004)

An administrative site was created for Stars that significantly streamlined support of the application.

h. ODS Replacing Datamart (Summer 2004)

C&IT made the decision to replace the Datamart with the Operation Data Store (ODS). C&IT stated that STARS was slated for "death" once the ODS was implemented; specifically because it is based on an ODBC connection which, although supported by the new reporting tool COGNOS, was not to be funded. Needless to say this caused consternation among many users as well as developers of Stars. Ultimately, the decision was reversed and ODBC connectivity was supported. Specifically, Desi Maddens of C&IT informed us that an exception to the ODBC policy could be made in this case for Stars and that Stars should move to using Banner Production as the data source for the Stars Student Profile. This was a very favorable turn of events since it would eliminate problems that stemmed from the timing of the Datamart update. As far as the reporting facilities of Stars, no decision was made at that time. Desi Maddens expressed the opinion that any reporting written against the Datamart will need to be rewritten to access the ODS. Subsequently, it decided that the reports module of Stars would also connect to Banner Production with the exception of census reports.

i. Creation of Derivative Census Files for OIA and Stars (Fall 2004 forward)

Based on his experience as Interim Director of OIA, Robert Berman created two derivative census tables referred to as the OIA_ENROLL_CENSUS and OIA_COURSE_CENSUS files. They reside on the Stars database server and give a variety of calculated fields that make the creation of census reports much easier. Several Stars reports were created based on the census files that allow self serve access to WSU reporting statistics. The OIA_ENROLL_CENSUS was based on the Datamart AS_CENSUS_FILE from Fall 2002 to Spring/Summer 2006 (200209-200606) and when the Datamart was replaced by the ODS, the source was switched to the GOVERNMENT CENSUS FILES for the 2006 Medical School Term (200607) forward. Scripts for the OIA_ENROLL_CENSUS and OIA_COURSE_CENSUS have been written and are run on a scheduled basis using the Oracle DBMS_JOB procedure.

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6. STARS development in 2005

a. Cohort and Retention (Winter 2005 forward)

Robert Berman created a cohort and retention module in Stars to support retention initiatives at WSU. Wuhong Lu helped implement retention and other cohort-related reports in Stars and Paul Moniodis, Tom Wilhelm, and Donna Alexander gave useful input on its development. Interest in this work was expressed by the Academic Affairs, the Honors College, T&ER, and the Student Retention Programs, among others.

b. New Stars Server (Winter 2005)

Rajeev Sadavisan and Prashanth Nutakki set up a new Stars server with added security features.

c. Continued Development of Reports and Web Pages

Throughout 2005, reports were developed and web page improvements were implemented.

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7. STARS Development in 2006

a. Partnership with the Registrar's Office (Winter 2006)

The Stars account was moved from the Office of Institutional Research (OIR) to the Registrar's Office in Winter 2006 establishing a valuable partnership that included the involvement of Linda Falkiewicz, Ken Harris, and Kurt Kruschinska. Stars continues to maintain partnerships with others including the Graduate School, the Office of OIR/Budget, and Academic Affairs. The Stars servers are still housed in the Office of OIR/Budget.

b. Stars Reports Converted to Banner Production Data Source (Summer 2006)

All of the Stars reports except census and cohort reports were converted so the data source is Banner production.

c. Degree Audit (Fall 2006 forward)

In Fall 2006, implementation of the Banner Degree Audit (CAPP) module was proposed together with a new set of Stars pages serving as a front end for Banner compliance data. The project was sponsored in Winter 2007 by Associate Provost Howard Shapiro and the Registrar Linda Falkiewicz. The project personnel include Gayle Reynolds, Wuhong Lu, Zhen Fu, Robert Berman, and Harish Nutakki. Until that point, a basic form of the General Education compliance audit was periodically run by a member of the UAC staff and the results displayed on the "Gen Ed/Curr" page on Stars. This was replaced by a "Degree Audit" link. This link gives the options to "View Previous Evaluation", "Generate New Evaluation", or run a "What-If Analysis". By Winter 2008 a limited set of programs was implemented for the Fall 2005 catalogue. Among these are various college-specific General Education checklists, several BA and BS programs, and a few non-degree programs. The team is soliciting feedback from advisors in this first phase of development.

d. New Report Paradigm (Fall 2006 forward)

Starting in Fall 2006, a new paradigm was introduced into the Stars Reports module that provided for a collection of sub-reports to accompany each new report and some older reports. A wide range of data including application, graduation, and retention data accompanies each base report.

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