New minor in data analytics adds up for Furman students
Ian Martens is a numbers guy. He majored in economics and information technology at Furman, and when a new minor in data analytics launched his junior year, he jumped at it.
“Data is going to be a big part of our future, and our future business decisions,” said Martens ’22. “Understanding how to interpret data and give good succinct analysis back to a client is going to be very helpful. I definitely learned those skills through this minor.”
With his skills and talent, Martens had a job waiting for him after graduation at Ernst and Young in Charlotte, North Carolina, as a technology risk consultant.
Data analysis is ubiquitous. “Every company now generates data,” said Kevin Hutson, professor of mathematics and one of the architects of the data analytics minor, which officially became available in August 2021.
Businesses from grocery store chains to online dating services are using consumer behavior information to determine their business tactics and strategies. Data are key for scientists charting climate change, doctors tracking disease and sports teams measuring performance.
“Somebody has to be on staff to do something with that data. It’s an in-demand field and it’s hard to find enough people to fill the demand,” Hutson said. Having data analytics professionals on board “is no longer something that companies can do, but have to do.”
Furman crafted the minor in data analytics with feedback from companies needing certain skills in interns. It includes core classes from the math and computer science departments as well as electives from a variety of departments including business administration, economics, health sciences and others. The minor requires three classes: intro to programming in Python, statistical modeling in R and intro to data mining. (Python and R are common industry programming languages.) It also requires two electives, one of which has to be outside of math and computer science. And, students spend time honing their communication skills so they can easily explain their work.
So far, 65 students have declared the minor. Organizers expect that to grow so that once the program gets established 20 to 25 students each year will graduate with the minor. The minor prepares students who want to work in data analysis, go to graduate school in the field or who, like Martens, want to start their own business one day.
Students majoring in business administration, math and computer science make up the bulk of the minors, but they also come from other areas, including biology, health sciences and earth, environmental and sustainability sciences.
Even before the data analytics minor was official, Hutson said Furman graduates, with experience in some of the classes, landed jobs with Meta, Disney, Home Depot, the Chicago Fire Football Club, and other organizations. They’ve also gotten into data analytics graduate school programs at Wake Forest, North Carolina State University and Georgia Tech.
Greenville-based Michelin got to experience the quantitative analysis skills of four Furman students last spring as part of a practicum class in business administration. The students – Marc D’Avanzo ’23, Zach Ahearn ’22, Dan Marino ’22 and Rosie Kim ’22 – performed so well that Michelin offered all four students summer internships. D’Avanzo and Ahearn took them up on it.
During the spring, the students provided insights into the shipment of tires from a distribution center. They participated in weekly check-ins with Michelin employees and gave two presentations of their findings.
“The students needed not only data analytics and critical thinking skills, but also business literacy, project management, technical communication, and presentation skills,” said Mieke Nelson, a business intelligence and analytics manager at Michelin. “The students exceeded our expectations during this project and delivered a viable and usable result that will set the stage for the next round of work.”
The ability to navigate and analyze large data sets is one of the key levers to excel in the marketplace, Nelson said. “As Michelin launches into the future as a data-driven company, skills like critical thinking, business literacy, data analytics and technical communication are critical to our success. This next generation will help lead the transformation, using their knowledge and experience to explore what is possible for our future.”
Ahearn is a problem solver who likes to create visual representations from data to communicate to non-business people. He said his experience with the global tire company has been amazing.
“I knew that I had learned a lot through my education at Furman, but working for Michelin made me truly realize how much I had learned over the prior three and a half years. It was the first time that I really felt like an asset for a company,” Ahearn said. He’s heading to Wake Forest in the fall for a master’s degree in business analytics.
D’Avanzo sees data analytics as an intersection between computer science, technology and business. “It lets me use the skills and knowledge from my computer science courses on how to code, create algorithms, etc., while using many of the softer skills I learned in the business major,” he said. “The experience with Michelin was fantastic. I had to use what I had learned in all of my business and computer science courses and more.”
For more information about the data analytics minor, contact Kevin Hutson, professor of math and chair of the data analytics minor, at firstname.lastname@example.org