The School of Business at the University of Montana launched a new Master’s degree program in Business Analytics last year. The program prepares graduates for successful careers working at the intersection of business, statistics, and computing. Students learn analytical techniques and also take courses in storytelling with data and linking data analytics to innovation to unleash new sources of value. Graduates are deeply engaged with the private and public sector, acquiring relevant skills to provide immediate value to employers. This is the first newsletter sharing the highlights from the first year of the program.
COURSEWORK & PROJECTS
Throughout the year, students took core courses in marketing, management information systems, and statistics, as well as a variety of electives in subjects like math, economics, computer science, and journalism. All coursework in the program focuses on providing students experience with both hard technical skills and soft business skills. Through electives, students can tailor the degree to their own skillsets and job aspirations. All students graduate with the ability to communicate in both a business and technical setting, harnessing the power of data to make better decisions.
During the first semester, students completed an Applied Data Analytics course with Professor John Chandler. They worked with hundreds of transaction files, provided by a large grocery store; the students organized and analyzed the data using Python and SQL. Many students considered this class the most challenging, as it was the most technical of the core curriculum. “While Professor Chandler challenged us with difficult coding projects, I always felt proud of myself and my classmates when we were finished,” said Jess Wyrick. “The struggle was well worth it.”
Students also completed Business Intelligence with Professor Clay Looney. Looney led students through research protocols and best practices in applying data to business problems. For one project, students discovered, cleaned, and analyzed data sets of their choosing and presented their findings at the end of the seven-weeks. “Without knowing it, these projects proved to be a great precursor for our final thesis presentation to come in the spring. That’s one of the great things about this program–it constantly builds on itself and challenges you to level up,” said Jess Diehl. With a dynamic understanding of the scientific method in-hand, students gained the ability to confidently drive business solutions with data.
The cohort also took an Advanced Marketing Research class with Professor Simona Stan. Students worked in groups to complete market research projects for local clients. These projects allowed students to effectively assess real business needs, write and distribute a survey, analyze the results using SPSS and R, and communicate the results to the clients in an easily understandable manner.
While students learned technical tools like R for the first time, one of the most valuable skills earned was a tenacious, business- oriented approach to problem solving with data. Students relied on one another to work on coding projects and solve problems: “The best part was the collaboration between students, regardless of whether they were a part of your project group or not,” said Jim O’Neill. “If your group or you were stuck, another MSBA student was there to help.”
In the final semester of the program, students completed individualized capstone projects, mentored by Professor Jakki Mohr, as well as various independent studies. A group of three students worked with a local startup called TOMIS, an automated marketing platform created to provide tourism companies with marketing suggestions and a forecast return on marketing investment. One of the students, Kayla Gonzales, says she enjoyed the opportunity to work with real, messy client data: “We underestimated how long it would take to clean and familiarize ourselves with data. We had to learn how to frame data requests and questions to business-oriented people that allowed us to get the information we needed in a way that they understood. Practicing that communication was difficult, but a valuable experience.”
To learn more about the program design, visit us here.
FACULTY & STAFF
Professor Chandler, voted the outstanding faculty member of the MSBA program, joined the business school as a Clinical Professor of Marketing in 2015. He teaches Applied Data Analytics and Text Mining of Unstructured Data, as well as an elective called Telling Stories with Big Data. Chandler began his career in marketing and data analytics in 1999, working with agencies to measure and improve the effectiveness of advertisements. With a Ph.D. is Statistics, he brings a highly technical perspective to solving business problems. He is the co-author (with UM math faculty Brian Steele and Swarna Reddy) of the book Algorithms for Data Science (2017 by Springer). When not teaching at the university, Chandler lives in Minneapolis working as the Chief Data Scientist for Ars Quanta, a data consulting company he co-founded in 2013. Read his bio here.
The heavy lifting for the operational and administrative aspects of the MSBA program were adroitly managed by Dawn and Kendall, who provided advising, organized class events and gatherings, handled financial and logistical aspects of speakers and conferences, scoured the university for appropriate electives, and helped both students and faculty navigate the new program. We can’t thank them enough for their hard work and dedication to student success. “This year was a learning experience for everyone involved, but I’m incredibly proud that we were able to help thirteen students graduate,” said Dawn. “They’re prepared to do challenging, innovative work.”
KENDALL KIHN & DAWN HAMBRICK
OTHER KEY FACULTY INCLUDE:
CONFERENCES & EVENTS
MSBA SHOWCASE/CAPSTONE FORUM
Professor Jakki Mohr’s Big Data and Innovation class required students to find a data set that allowed them to dive deep and analyze a business problem. At the end of the year, five students were voted by classmates to present their capstone projects to the Missoula business community.
Projects included: boom and bust cycles of the oil and gas industry and how it relates to agriculture, segmentation and targeting strategies for millennials, an analysis of gun ownership and firearm-related mortality, artificial intelligence for real estate speculation, and a segmentation analysis of a large financial institution. Held at the Garlington, Lohn, Robinson offices in downtown Missoula, the forum was attended by about 35 professionals from the business community. People who attended were impressed by the technical skills learned in the program, the diversity of data sets analyzed for the course, and the knowledge that they can hire skilled data scientists from UM’s School of Business.
LAS VEGAS INFORMS BUSINESS ANALYTICS CONFERENCE
In April, a group of four MSBA students attended the INFORMS Business Analytics Conference in Las Vegas, Nevada to talk to companies, gain interview experience, and speak with other students about their program curriculum. The group interviewed with companies like Amazon, GM Financial, Deloitte, and MGM Grand, and learned how companies like Netflix are using data to meet business and consumer needs. Washington State Employees Credit Unition, Payne West Insurance, ATG Consulting, and Corporate Technology Group provided funds to defray the cost of the trip. The students came away from the conference with confidence in the skills developed in the MSBA. While students from other schools may receive more technical training, those students often lacked the business acumen to use the results in a meaningful way. UM’s MSBA students’ strengths lie in their technical savvy and business orientation, allowing them to take the data and transform it into a story that is easily understood and used by managers.
Throughout the year, students heard from a variety of data analysts from consulting, marketing/ad agency, and client-side perspectives. Professor Chandler introduced the class to Ty Henkaline, the Chief Analytics Innovator at Columbus Collaboratory, a company that offers cybersecurity, advanced analytics, and talent solutions by leveraging the knowledge of a group of participating companies that span several industries (American Electric Power, Battelle, Cardinal Health, Huntington, Lbrands, Nationwide, and OhioHealth). The Collaboratory allows them to “deliver network effects through cross-industry use cases and solutions”. Henkaline referenced the agile manifesto and innovator’s dilemma, resonating with student readings and faculty lectures.
Professor Jakki Mohr also introduced the students to Tomas Kornegay, the Senior Director for Nike Digital. Kornegay’s group at Nike includes three departments: Data Science and Analytics, Digital Marketing Operations, and Digital Product Growth. He spoke about the strength of Nike’s brand and the role data analytics played in keeping consumers engaged through storytelling. His diagram (below) combines four aspects, three of which are covered in great detail in the MSBA (statistics, technology, and creativity).
Students also heard from companies like Microsoft, Starbucks, R2C Group, Elixiter, Moderna Therapeutics, and FiveThirtyEight, providing them with networking opportunities and allowing them to see how companies are using analytics to inform business decisions.
With the MSBA program’s emphasis on client data and group projects, students gained hands-on experience which allowed them to build strong resumes and gave them relevant experience for their interviews. Several students received offers and accepted both local and out-of- state jobs. Lane Colyer and Bailey Harper both began working in their second semester of the program, Lane as a consultant for ATG Consulting and Bailey as an associate marketing manager for VIM & VIGR (pictured on the right), a compression sock company. Jessica Wyrick accepted a position as a marketing manager for local startup Orbital Shift. Jim O’Neill took a position with the Salish-Kootenai Tribes to analyze and digitize medical records. Kayla Gonzales accepted a digital analyst position with Shaw + Scott, a digital advertising agency based in Seattle. Other students wanted the summer to re-group and spend time with family; they are working on temporary projects while applying and interviewing for various positions to start later in the fall.
Partnerships with the business community and other organizations are a differentiating feature for our program. These partnerships include, for example, the Missoula Economic Partnership, where James Grunke and Jenni Graff, provided internships, discussions with potential employers, and great advocacy of the program in the business community.
Washington State Employees Credit Union provided important financial support for things like the MSBA showcase, hosting speakers, and student travel. Companies who provide datasets for the students to work with, host internships for students, provide monetary support, serve as speakers, and interview and hire students all play important roles in the success of our program.
Reflecting on the first year of the program, three critical success factors emerged. First, the intellect, work ethic, interdisciplinarity and camaraderie of the inaugural cohort of students were key to the first year’s success. These students worked hard, supported each other, and exhibited adaptability as the year unfolded, sometimes in unexpected ways. Their strengths, coupled with a “get s*** done” attitude, provided a foundation for success.
Equally important were the faculty, staff, and leadership team within the School of Business. The first year of prepping new classes for a brand-new program not only was a lot of hard work; it also resulted in some important—yet unanticipated—insights that have led to fruitful modifications for the upcoming year.