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Darla Moore School of Business

Focus on data proficiency equips Moore School students with sought-after skills

Nov. 19, 2019

U.S. businesses face a shortage of 1.5 million managers with the skills to capitalize on and transform massive amounts of data into insights that can guide decision-making and provide value to their organizations, according to a recent study by McKinsey Global Institute.

The Moore School is committed to filling that void by ensuring that our 5,300 undergraduates are equipped with the data and technology skills hiring managers seek. Undergraduates are now required to receive unprecedented quantitative and data analytic preparation. Additionally, 95 percent of full-time MBAs and many Professional MBA students are completing graduate certificates in business analytics

As a result of a curriculum redesign in 2015 and other steps taken over the past four years, Moore School graduates leave the school data proficient, analytically capable and functionally based — skills that are crucial for high-value business jobs.

In fall 2016, the first step was implemented with a more demanding four-year curriculum and the addition of a second statistics course to the undergraduate business core. Students now take statistics courses freshman and sophomore years to provide them with a strong quantitative foundation.

In their first days on campus, freshmen are invited to meet the dean and undergraduate associate dean where they are advised about the program’s rigor and encouraged to challenge themselves and to use academic resources and support. They are reminded that all students must maintain at least a 3.0 GPA and cautioned that failure is possible.

Staff and faculty emphasize two of the Moore School’s core values: excellence and resilience. Students are expected to give their best performance in their coursework. Resilience is developed when faculty academically challenge students, with success resulting from hard work. Some will struggle. Students are told that if they don’t find the work difficult, faculty are not doing their jobs.

The second step, taken in spring 2017, standardized learning data for undergraduates. A four-course undergraduate business analytics concentration was added, providing further opportunity for students to build data analytic skills while strengthening their knowledge in the functional areas of business — marketing, operations, finance, etc.

The concentration has a required course, MGSC 394: Data Analytics for Business, which covers topics including database management, SQL programming and data visualization. It’s followed by three electives that focus on analytics in each field. Every undergraduate major has at least one elective, and some have two or three.

In spring 2019, 329 students chose the undergraduate business analytics concentration, vastly exceeding any other concentration or minor chosen by undergraduates. The Moore School anticipates more than 500 students will register for the concentration in spring 2020. Ultimately, the aim is that every business undergraduate will select it.

The third step was taken in spring 2019 when learning to code in R became mandatory as part of the undergraduate business core curriculum. R, a data analytics software, is frequently used as an Excel alternative in advanced statistical analysis. The ability to code in R gives students an advantage in the job market.

Approximately 30 Moore School faculty members attended a seminar to enhance their knowledge of R so they could better use and teach it. Going forward, analytically intensive upper-level undergraduate courses require students to use R and other advanced analytical techniques as they wrestle with data.

The final step of the Moore School’s implementation of data was the opening of the data lab in spring 2019.

Analytics at its heart is virtual, and students can come together anywhere to work on data located on servers in the cloud. The establishment of the data lab is a physical statement that emphasizes data as an area of excellence for the Moore School. The lab is a centerpiece of the building, located on the second level next to the finance lab.

Through work supervised by data lab staff, sophomores complete demanding capstone projects using R to analyze voluminous sets of real-world business data. Student teams also use popular tools such as SQL for database management and Power BI to visualize and report data.

“These types of learning experiences expand students’ data science skills and broaden their understanding that proficiency in data analysis and data-driven decision making are critical skills for everyone,” said Sung-Hee “Sunny” Park, associate professor in management science and founding director of the data lab.

Doctoral and MBA candidates and undergraduates who excel in data analytics staff the lab and mentor students.

“Moore School students undertake projects [with data] provided by collaborating community, governmental and industry partners,” Park said. “The projects teach students how to extract, clean, load, analyze and visualize large real-world data sets, and the mentors sharpen their skills in data science by working with students.”

By the end of their sophomore year, students have an unmatched data analytical foundation as they select their majors. Confident in their ability to work with data, students are increasingly choosing to pursue an undergraduate business analytics concentration.

Expectations of graduate students also have been raised. Upon graduation they are expected to be able to analyze data and draw meaningful insights that inform decision-making. Impressive placement rates for our full-time MBA program at graduation this year are strongly associated with nearly all graduates having added the graduate certificate in business analytics.

Like their undergraduate counterparts, the vast majority of Moore School full-time MBAs are leaving data proficient, analytically capable and functionally based, as do many Professional MBA graduates.

As far as staff can tell, no business school in America is focusing on data proficiency and analytics at the Moore School’s scale and level. Moore School graduates are entering the workforce fully prepared and equipped with the skills, attitude and work ethic they need to succeed in their careers.

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