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‘Finish line’ in sight for inaugural class of data analytics grad students at WVU business school

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A year ago, students from across the country and various walks of life took a leap into the new, online Business Data Analytics graduate program at the West Virginia University College of Business and Economics. After completing their final on-campus residency, and much course work over the past 12 months, these students will cross the finish line August 4 with a Master of Science in Business Data Analytics degree.

The inaugural class of 18 students included an interesting mix of individuals; a majority of the group had ties to West Virginia or WVU, but also included participants from three different time zones. Students will have earned 30 credit hours in a year through 10 courses, but with unique elements to the curriculum that encompassed experiential learning objectives — such as the capstone projects that provided students with real life assignments.

“WVU was one of the first institutions to offer data analytics in a master’s program and in an online format,” said Mark Gavin, associate dean for graduate programs, research and executive education and a catalyst for the creation of the program. “This is a program that definitely — and quite successfully — answered the industry’s call. That call was for individuals who know how to use analytics and data science to support business decisions and strategies. That’s the future model of business.”

Gavin said the final capstone project was a group project, delivering their work on contemporary, real world projects to WVU’s partnering organizations.

“When the College of Business and Economics was building this program, I really believe the achievements we saw in these students — the incredible amount of knowledge they have gained — is what we had in mind,” Gavin continued. “And the worldwide demand for, and value of, these students in their respective industries will confirm that.”

Virginia Kleist, Brad Price and Stephane Collignon, the architects of the program, emphasized the importance of data in the business world today, as well as the critical role it will play in business going forward.

“What we’re trying to do is help businesses create insights from the data they’re already collecting and help them begin to develop an analytics culture where data plays a key role in decision-making,” Price said. “The goal of our program is to create critical thinkers and communicators of data, because those are the skills that scale to any technology or industry.”

Price said the program is designed to be the most outward-facing, business-oriented and hands-on program in the country, by engaging with as many real businesses as possible.

“The MS-BUDA program not only provides the technical skills needed to be successful in the field of data analytics, but also, and most importantly, it teaches the communication skills needed to take you to the next level,” said Sarabeth Porter, Business Intelligence and Data Analyst, General Motors. “The real world experience provided through the capstone project is invaluable, and the knowledgeable and established professors are some of the most genuinely helpful people I’ve ever known.”

Carl Burkland, Chief Information Officer for Wesbanco, said the program was challenging and rewarding, and the amount of information presented over the 12-month period was outstanding. The true test?

“I would enroll again in a heartbeat,” Burkland said. “For me, the BUDA program helped to build the bridge from data to wisdom. I learned techniques to provide inference, insight and prediction to help businesses of all types bring answers to real world business problems. It was particularly valuable in my current role as the program highlights the value of good, clean, transparent data, and also shows the value that data can provide to a business.”

After the program was officially approved by the WVU Board of Governors in September 2015, B&E continued the work to establish its business data analytics program in this unique format, a hybrid program that combined online learning with two, on-campus residencies, each of which covered multiple days of group activities and instructional experience critical to the curriculum.

Kleist said the group now has a substantial advantage in the business world, as the power of data analytics represents a dramatic change at this time in technological history.

“Our students are earning a degree in a topic that can ‘fundamentally transform the way we make sense of the world,’ quoting a book titled Big Data, using more data than has ever been collected in the entire history of humanity,” Kleist  said. “Our students own this new Big Data world. They are able to inhabit and lead in this strange new world with grace and ease, moving without fear in a world of complex technology. I think that is what has been accomplished here.”

Porter said, “There is no doubt in my mind this program will better my career in so many ways, from providing a better understanding of some of the tools I already use in my current job to opening doors for future positions. It’s been an incredibly busy and tough year, but it was all worth it in the end to be a part of the inaugural class of 2017.”

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CONTACT: Patrick Gregg, WVU College of Business and Economics
patrick.gregg@mail.wvu.edu or 304.293.5131

Follow @WVUToday on Twitter.