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Darla Moore School of Business

Data Lab a “physical statement” showing Moore School’s commitment to students becoming data proficient

Feb. 10, 2020

The Moore School opened a Data Lab in the past year that assists students in becoming comfortable with data analytics, especially important as U.S. businesses face a major shortage of managers skilled in transforming large-scale data into insights that can guide decision-making and provide value to organizations. The Moore School is trying to bring awareness of the Data Lab’s ability to help students as part of National Love Data Week, which promotes good data practices the week of Feb. 10-14, 2020.

The Moore School is in the fourth year of an undergraduate curriculum overhaul that largely emphasizes data proficiency and analytical capability. Part of this curriculum shift is requiring undergraduate business students to take statistics and business courses beginning their first year when previously they began these classes in their third year. Changes in the curriculum for the MBA program to emphasize data proficiency and analytical capability began in 2013. Soon after, other graduate programs began making similar changes.

To assist more inexperienced students with their statistics courses and their basic business courses and provide a resource for upper level and graduate courses, the Moore School added the Data Lab in mid-spring 2019.

“Analytics at its heart is virtual, and students can come together anywhere to work on data located on servers in the cloud,” said Moore School Dean Peter Brews. “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.”

Brews said his hope in putting the lab on the second level next to the school’s main courtyard and thoroughfare is to encourage students to use it and know it is there if they need assistance.

In addition to entry-level courses, through work supervised by Data Lab staff, sophomores complete demanding data-intensive 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, clinical associate professor in management science and founding director of the Data Lab. “Moore School students undertake projects [with data] provided by collaborating community, governmental and industry partners. 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.”

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

“Data is increasingly being used to make more informed business decisions in all fields,” said Ruhi Pitre, Data Lab assistant and a senior operations and supply chain, international business and statistics triple major. “Equipping students with the tools to make sense of different data sets will make them better, more cross-functional business professionals in the future.”

Pitre said she intends to work in analytics in the future and appreciates the experience in the Data Lab.

“Teaching and explaining R code has, in turn, made me a better coder,” she said. “Additionally, while it’s important to be able to analyze data, it’s equally important to communicate that analysis effectively. Working in the Data Lab has been a great place to hone those communication skills.”

With more than 1,500 visitors to the Data Lab in fall 2019 – the first full semester of its existence, it is already helping students understand how to work with complex data sets. According to an exit survey that 1,246 students responded to in fall 2019, close to 95 percent said the Data Lab helped them resolve their problem. More than 91 percent of respondents scored their overall satisfaction with the service they received as a five, with five being the highest satisfaction.

Data Lab assistant and MBA candidate Marcus Searing said he uses the Socratic method as he mentors students in the lab.

“By allowing a student to work through a problem logically and with minimal hand-holding,” Searing said their knowledge is better retained and that students become more confident in their data analytics skills for future assignments and even beyond their time at the Moore School.

An undergraduate alumnus of the Moore School’s operations and supply chain program who graduated in 2019, Searing said he wholeheartedly supports the Moore School’s vision of ensuring all students graduate data proficient. A former Arabic linguist with the Marines, Searing said he’s worked with data not only in the military but also as a supply chain undergraduate in an internship with Harsco Rail, a railway track maintenance and construction company in Columbia, South Carolina.

“Now, more than ever before, business revolves around data, and students-turned-professionals are the link between data and information,” Searing said. “Being able to analyze data and produce actionable insights is quickly becoming a standard skill that employers expect of new business school graduates.”

In conjunction with opening the Data Lab to physically showcase the importance of data analytics and provide assistance to students, the Moore School added an undergraduate business analytics concentration in spring 2017. As of January 2020, 545 undergraduates have chosen this concentration, up from 329 in spring 2019. Similarly, the Moore School began offering a graduate certificate in business analytics in fall 2013. Today, more than 80 percent of all Moore School MBA students are enrolled in the certificate program.   

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