Data, data analysis and business intelligence – the use of data to inform business decisions – have quickly and firmly become baked into the DNA of doing business. While business planning once focused on strategy, today business analytics is central to strategic decision making.
This decade will be laden with opportunities for data-savvy business graduates as noted in LinkedIn’s 2020 Emerging Jobs Report.
The Orfalea College of Business (Orfalea) at California Polytechnic State University (Cal Poly), in anticipation of this market demand, has created an educational experience that equips students to be competitive for the most coveted jobs to come.
There are some key differentiators to its Master of Science in Business Analytics (MSBA) programme that make this so.
Experiential Learning: Orfalea’s learn-by-doing philosophy
The university has a learn-by-doing philosophy that permeates campus culture and results in numerous opportunities for experiential learning both in and out of the classroom.
In the MSBA programme, students work in teams on a series of collaborative industry projects. They consult directly with top companies to create solutions to pressing problems through robust data analysis.
Putting the coursework in statistical modelling, machine learning and econometrics to use, the projects have addressed a variety of real-world topics. They have tackled marketing mix modelling for an e-commerce fashion retailer; optimisation of test ordering patterns in hospital emergency rooms to reduce wait time, radiation exposure and cost; and predictive propensity-to-buy models which look at what other products a customer might buy based on previous buying patterns.
“The industry projects were my favourite courses in the program,” states alumna Ashley Goodin, who now works in sports analytics for the New York Jets football team.
“They offered a real-world perspective on everything we had learned up to that point. I think the most valuable thing was being able to interpret the solutions we [came] up with into actionable business decisions and strategic recommendations.”
The importance of soft skills beyond one’s technical prowess is emphasised as well. Prior to the launch of a project, students attend workshops on teamwork, collaboration and active listening. They also receive training on the science of persuasion and how to understand a client’s needs through dialogue.
Business analytics, as a field, is fast-paced and dynamic. In order to stay at the forefront of this changing intellectual landscape, Orfalea’s MSBA curriculum is routinely vetted by an advisory board made up of data analytics leaders from the likes of Google, Visa, Netflix, Oracle, and Tesla.
This engagement has resulted in a handful of new course offerings such as People Analytics, Cloud Computing and Data Ethics.
The programme prides itself on its adaptability and responsiveness to market needs, which in turn provides students with the skills they need to embark on a rewarding career.
Alumnus Naren Doddapaneni notes: “When considering grad school, students should consider if the curriculum keeps up with the industry and current research, and that it focuses on real world problems … something that Cal Poly’s approach emphasises.”
Focus on the individual
Cal Poly’s MSBA programme offers small class sizes, typically 20-35 students, which ensures no shortage of face time with talented faculty. This focus on individual needs and growth is particularly important because the programme admits students from a broad range of undergraduate backgrounds and the individual attention encourages each student to develop their own unique skillset.
According to Ashley, “the small class sizes made me feel very comfortable … I was never nervous to ask for clarification… and it was [clear that both faculty and peers] wanted every individual to succeed.”
The focus on the individual does not mean students go through the programme alone. Instead, it’s quite the opposite..
The small classes and cohort-style course sequence enable deep connections with peers and foster a long-lasting professional network.
This is evident at the annual Cal Poly Analytics Forum where students get to listen to analytics leaders from key companies. Programme alumni return to campus to share insights on their new careers and to network with current students too.
Many graduates are so valued by their companies that they are often asked to return to hire more students from Orfalea’s MSBA programme.
Within ninety days of graduation, 88 percent of graduates have secured employment. They have landed a variety of data analytics roles with companies such as Adobe, Deloitte, Oracle, Apple, Workday, and Amazon. In fact, the university graduates are the 14th most-recruited by the top 25 Silicon Valley companies.
For international students, Cal Poly’s programme is STEM-designated under US Citizenship and Immigration Services, affording international students who meet the requirements up to 36-months of post-completion Optional Practical Training work authorisation.
When reviewing the curriculum and the skillset of graduates, Oracle vice chairman Jeff Henley, affirms the strong reputation Orfalea graduates have amongst employers. He said: “The MS programme in Business Analytics …[makes] Cal Poly a go-to source of … talent for innovative companies.”