Structured Conversations

Structured Conversations

In an effort to provide ongoing professional development opportunities for SAAL members, the Professional Development Committee hosts Structured Conversations. Structured Conversations are monthly interactive assessment webinars. A listing of upcoming webinars and past records can be found below. Check the professional development calendar for a full listing of events. 

Upcoming Structured Conversations

Data Storytelling Using Design Thinking Models

December 5, 2017 @ 12pm- 1:00pm EDT


As resource scarcity in higher education becomes an increasing reality, Student Affairs will have to respond by providing ever more compelling evidence that the work we do supports the academic mission of our institutions. Similarly, as our student body becomes ever more inundated with information across technological channels, we must learn how we can help them find our signal in the noise. Stories are how humans relate to one another. It is how we generate empathy and thus, how we can influence change in our communities. At the core of compelling stories is truth, and in an organizational sense, truth is the meaning we make from our data.

Data storytelling is set to become an essential skill set that all Student Affairs assessment professionals need, both for reporting to those controlling resources, as well as sharing information with our students and peers. In the past several years we’ve gotten progressively better at gathering good data, but the potential that this information could have is lost unless we hone our abilities in sharing it. Our knowledge of pedagogy tells us that reporting raw data and static information is not engaging or memorable. We must learn how to transform our data into engaging stories so that it’s meaning becomes accessible to all members of our audiences.

This Structured Conversation will present an overview of data storytelling using design thinking models as a backdrop, and then delve into practical approaches to successfully crafting stories with data. We can discuss the three elements of a data story – Data, Visuals, and Narrative to understand how data points could be transformed into story as we move through the elements.

Learning Outcomes:

As a result of participating in this conversation, you will:

  • Articulate the three elements of data storytelling, and how they work together to create compelling stories.
  • Discuss the relationship between storytelling and empathy.
  • Describe one new method of storytelling that they might employ to increase the impact of their data.



Lesley D’Souza is a student affairs assessment professional that specializes in storytelling with data. Currently, she is the Manager of Student Affairs Storytelling at Ryerson University, and will be taking a new role in November as the Manager, Communications & Assessment in the Office of Student Life at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT). She is involved in the Canadian Association of College & University Student Services as the Co-chair for the Research, Assessment & Evaluation Community of Practice, is a member of the ACPA Commission for Assessment & Evaluation Directorate, and part of the Student Affairs Assessment Leaders Advancement Committee. She completed her MA in College Student Personnel from Bowling Green State University in 2006.

Julia Smeed is a leader, innovator and intrapreneur who specializes in design thinking, community collaboration and related methodologies that strive to design with students rather than for them.  Currently, she is the Leader of the Innovation Hub at the University of Toronto, where she works with teams of over 150 students and staff on campus to improve the community's campus experience.  The Innovation Hub conducts empathy based interviews with students to generate stories that serve as inspiration for program, service and resource design at the University of Toronto.  Julia holds an MBA from the University of Fredericton in Global Leadership and a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology from Western University.  She is the Secretary of the Council on Student Services at the University of Toronto, and has presented at various conferences including the Canadian Association of College & University Student Services (CACUSS) and the Canadian Association of Career Educators and Employers (CACEE).  Outside of her work, Julia is a mom to 4-year-old twins Joshua and Victoria who just started junior kindergarten.

Join Us Live!

Past Conversations

Visit our YouTube Channel or browse it below by clicking the playlist link on the top left of the video frame. PowerPoint slides and handouts can also be found in the SAAL Resource Repository in the folder titled "Structured Conversations."

Topic Proposals

Would you like to suggest a topic for a future Structured Conversation (SC)? The SAAL PDC welcomes your suggestions! You are also invited to apply to lead a SC and share your expertise with SAAL by completing the proposal form below. We look forward to hearing from you!