Customer Story

At Oklahoma State University, analytics links business graduates with fulfilling careers in industry

A unique business analytics master’s program takes a cue from industry partners to teach students about the real-world applications of data science

Oklahoma State University

ChallengeTrain students from various backgrounds to address real data science needs in the business world.
SolutionUse JMP® in the classroom to introduce students to statistical principles while also familiarizing them with a tool used widely by industry partners.
ResultsOSU continues to achieve strong post-graduation job placement year after year. With a robust and balanced statistical and business education, graduates of OSU’s Master of Science in Business Analytics program are ready to hit the ground running in industry careers.

In America’s heartland at Oklahoma State University, a unique graduate program at the intersection of marketing and data science has trained more than 900 students for the growing field of business analytics. Created by Goutam Chakraborty (or Dr. C as he is known to his students), SAS Professor of Marketing Analytics at OSU’s Spear School of Business and Director of the program, this interdisciplinary degree has enabled students from an array of backgrounds to build on their established industry skills with in-depth statistical training and applied business principles. What started as a Data Mining Certificate in partnership with SAS is now a fully accredited Master of Science in Business Analytics (MSBAN) with three additional certificates jointly awarded by OSU and SAS (predictive analytics, data science and the original certificate in data mining).

‘My whole life, my background is by mistake’

Growing up in a refugee colony in India, Dr. C came a long way to arrive at his current role. “In India at that time, you become an engineer, or you become a doctor, or you become an accountant,” he says. “So I became an engineer because that was my inclination at the time.” After working as a mechanical engineer for two years post-graduation, Dr. C began to feel a restlessness that would become familiar throughout his career. “I was a mechanical engineer, worked for a while, got bored. That's a trend in my life – I get bored,” he admits. Subsequently, he worked in management and marketing while getting an executive MBA, but after completing his degree and continuing his ascent up the management ladder, Chakraborty once again sought a new challenge, this time in the United States. But a twist of fate brought him to his current path in academia. “I applied to 10 schools for an MBA and by accident, the University of Iowa sent me a PhD form ... so I filled it in.” Once he completed his PhD in marketing and simultaneously an MS in applied statistics, Dr. C joined OSU and has been there ever since.

"JMP is already in the industry, so if I produce students who already have JMP skills [by the time they begin their career], they can hit the ground running. Employers don't have to teach them JMP. They already know it."

— Goutam Chakraborty, SAS Professor of Marketing Analytics

Preparing students for the job market

Achieving tenure and full professorship is no small feat, and once it is accomplished, many professors take advantage of a slower pace for a while – but not Dr. C. “By the time I became a full professor, which was about 2003, that’s when I got bored again,” he recalls. “I said, OK, I’ve got to do something.”

With both a marketing and statistics background, Chakraborty taught many courses in applied marketing research and statistics, but he recognized a need in the marketplace for graduates with a more focused, yet business-friendly, set of skills. “At that point in time, there was no such thing as an analytics program, and SAS was just starting to really push the frontier on data mining,” he says.

“So I created the Data Mining Certificate in partnership with SAS. The idea was that we have programs in statistics, programs in information science, in industrial engineering ... the students in these programs are all very good ... but they don’t have any focus. My goal was to give them a set of electives that trained them in data mining applications and SAS.”

Dr. C initially began with a certificate because it was simpler and faster to implement than a full degree program. But a comprehensive master’s program was always his true goal, especially as the buzz around everything “data science” grew. After a few years working to develop such a program, he finally began enrolling MSBAN students at the end of 2014.

“The students are happy because they get jobs,” Chakraborty explains. In the MSBAN program, all students receive paid summer internships and job placement rates post-graduation are high; over 90 percent within three months from graduation in 2017, for example. Given the interplay between analytics and marketing in these certificate and degree programs, students are highly focused on entering the business world after graduation, instead of pursuing an academic or research track. And as a professor with extensive experience in industry, he understands both what employers are looking for in job candidates and what students will need to learn to have the highest chance of success in industry careers. “I’m producing professionals. The job is always in the forefront of our students’ minds.”

"The students are happy because they get jobs," Chakraborty explains. In the MSBAN program, all students receive paid summer internships and job placement rates post-graduation are high; over 90 percent within three months from graduation in 2017, for example.

JMP® skills help students ‘hit the ground running’ in industry careers

Dr. C enthusiastically uses JMP with all his students when they first start the MSBAN program. “The reason is very simple: It’s the easiest program to use.” Moreover, he says, “JMP is already in the industry, so if I produce students who already have JMP skills [by the time they begin their career], they can hit the ground running. Employers don't have to teach them JMP. They already know it. They can plug right into the system.”

With students from a diverse array of backgrounds, Chakraborty can’t count on students all having foundational programming or statistical knowledge. Because students can pick it up with minimal training, JMP lets professors focus on engaging the students in learning the program material. “They’re in heavy courses from the first week of the semester onwards. If I throw a lot of hard programming stuff at them in the beginning, I won’t be able to get them excited and interested. So JMP is where we start. It’s a great way for us to start teaching students the application of analytic statistics, visualization, exploration.”

JMP is especially useful in the classroom setting, as it is dynamic enough to facilitate interactive problem-solving. “I don’t lecture in class. Rather, the classroom is for discussion, interaction and exploring, so we’ll pull up JMP. We can do it on the fly,” he says. “Can I do it on the fly with other programs? Yes, but it will take me more time, and even if I can do it, the students are not ready [to use software with a higher learning curve] at the beginning.”

Internships are another crucial piece of OSU’s graduate program. “We can talk about projects all day long and we can do projects with real data, but it’s not the same as working for a company. It’s never really just the data or just the model or the analytics,” explains Dr. C. “I want to [foster graduates] who can solve business problems using whatever data technology process tools are available. I want [my students] to sit at the table with you and be able to explain the model he or she has built.” And with the simple interface and dynamic visualization tools that JMP offers, Chakraborty says students can focus more on developing their understanding of underlying principles instead of wasting time and energy trying to figure out how to use a more complex program.

Students from the OSU MSBAN program present a poster on predictive modeling at the 2017 JMP Discovery Summit in St. Louis.

Staying current in a rapidly changing field

With the ever-changing landscapes of both the marketing world and data analytics, the curriculum must also evolve to ensure that the skills taught remain current; they must meet the tangible needs of various industries. “If we don’t stay current, we will not be able to survive,” Chakraborty explains. “There I have an advantage. One is a deep connection within SAS.”

Chakraborty, who will chair SAS Global Forum 2018 in Denver, also served on the Steering Committee of JMP Discovery Summit for three years running. Conferences like Discovery and SAS Global Forum, he says, provide an excellent opportunity to foster fruitful industry partnerships: “At conferences, I hear from companies what they’re looking for [in job candidates]. The second advantage is, I’ve been around for a long time.” Having been a pioneer in the intersection of marketing and data science as it pertains to the business world, Chakraborty is well known by a wide cross-section of business leaders, and he uses these relationships to keep abreast of developing needs and trends.

Furthermore, he has an advisory board informing his program, including director-level representatives from big players like Walmart, FedEx and Comcast. “They go through the curriculum and then they tell me, ‘Maybe you need [to add more] training in this area,’” he explains. “There is my advantage. I bring in training on things that most universities can’t think of.”

For example, one of the members of this advisory board recently told Chakraborty that the company needed new hires to have more exposure to Bayesian network analysis. So he called in experts from SAS and delivered a two-day seminar on Bayesian analysis to bring his students up to speed. Chakraborty appreciates the need for continuous adaptation in part, he says, because of his access to people with diverse backgrounds much like his own. “We bring in a lot of folks from the industry itself,” he says. While fellow professors teach many of the core curricula, like information science and statistics, “All these other trainings that we provide are all taught by industry adjuncts. Somebody who comes and teaches data visualization may actually be a director of a company – someone who does that for a living.”

Dr. C’s real-world approach to developing and growing business programs is gaining increasing traction as educators come to see the importance of bridging industry and academia. With more graduates entering the workforce in fulfilling industry careers right out of college, Chakraborty says you need look no further than the data. And, he says, OSU’s MSBAN graduates “are as good as any data scientist you will find.”

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