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New Degrees, New Vision: Q&A About WSB’s New Master of Science Degrees

By Clare Becker

February 14, 2019

Director Kristin Branch gestures while speaking on a panel
Kristin Branch speaks to the need behind the new graduate degree in business analytics, one of three new Master of Science degrees launched by the Wisconsin School of Business this year. Branch was joined by Mark Eppli (left), and Jake Dean. Photo by David Giroux

This fall, the Wisconsin School of Business introduces three new Master of Science degrees that position students for careers in business analytics, supply chain, and real estate. Three WSB representatives—Kristin Branch, director of business analytics and the A.C. Nielsen Center for Marketing Research; Jake Dean, director of the Grainger Center for Supply Chain Management; and Mark Eppli, director of the James A. Graaskamp Center for Real Estate—share their perspectives on these new degree offerings.

WSB: Tell us about the genesis of these three new master’s degrees. How do they respond to the changing demands of today’s employers and economy?

Branch: We turned to industry and looked at what is growing, and specifically what the needs are in terms of business analytics. Creating a degree that would train professionals with analytical skill sets was an easy decision because it’s very broad and high in demand. The School wanted to add some master’s programs to our portfolio, so this was a great way to start.

Dean: We knew that not everyone is interested or able to take two years off to join a full-time MBA program. The one-year master’s provides another educational option that takes half the time. There’s significant demand in the supply chain realm for students who are pre-career or very early in their careers. We have a thriving undergraduate program with great career outcomes, so this new master’s gets at that early-career market our employers are looking for.

Eppli: Alumni recognize a need for rigorously trained real estate professionals who can critically analyze property decisions. But the students and young professionals were asking for this as well. They recognize that a one-year concentrated program is really what can help them hone their critical thinking around more narrowly focused career aspirations.

WSB: What type of data and research helped inform these new degrees?

Branch: We took a three-pronged approach. First, we analyzed what the University of Wisconsin–Madison already offers, both in WSB’s undergraduate and MBA programs, as well as in other schools and colleges on campus. Then, we looked at competitive schools to identify what classes and degrees they are offering, and what type of outcomes they’re seeing. We wanted to assess how we could leverage their best practices as well as differentiate our program. And the final component was really industry, looking at what type of people and skill sets employers are trying to hire.

WSB: Why is WSB uniquely poised to offer these degrees?

Eppli: We have a history and legacy like no other real estate program in the world that we are continuing with this M.S. program. We have more than 2,000 active alumni in cities throughout the world and a name that carries global recognition. Our distinctiveness resides in the applied learning opportunities both in and outside the classroom. Additionally, U.S. News & World Report recognized UW–Madison in 2019 as the best undergraduate public university to study real estate in the U.S., providing us with a great platform to build an M.S. program on.

Dean: We’re one of the few university-based endowed centers that focuses on supply chain. That infrastructure, which allows us to deliver well-regarded MBA and undergraduate programming, is better served when there are more students taking advantage of it.

Branch: Due to the rigorous nature of our being a tier-one research institution, our students are getting exposed to the best professors in their field. This makes Wisconsin really stand above other schools.

Jake Dean speaks on a faculty panel
Jake Dean shares his perspective on the new supply chain program. Photo by David Giroux

WSB: What type of student will be attracted to the one-year master’s degree?

Dean: We expect the majority of supply chain students to come directly out of an undergraduate degree. The design of this program is such that they’re in the academic mindset, and now they put an additional year on their degree to obtain a specialized master’s focus.

Branch: We also anticipate that our business analytics students will come straight from their undergraduate degree or after one to three years of work experience. We’ll be seeing students from a variety of majors looking to gain more business acumen and tie that to their undergraduate area of study.

Eppli: These programs will be attractive to UW–Madison students, as well as those in the broader University of Wisconsin System. To come to the flagship institution for a one-year master’s degree is a great next step for many students looking to focus their critical thinking into a career they are passionate about. We also find that the international reach of our alumni base is likely to attract international students looking for best in-practice graduate education.

WSB: What sort of career outcomes do you anticipate for graduates of these degrees?

Dean: Many of the students will land in high-potential roles within supply chain like procurement analyst, supply chain analyst, logistics analyst—those program leader and program manager roles that are well-suited to individuals with a specialized master’s degree. We expect that our employer partners, including Target, BP, Cargill, and W.W. Grainger, will be very interested in these students.

Branch: Manufacturing firms like Kimberly-Clark and General Mills are all looking to hire more analysts, more analytical rigor to their bench. We’re also going to see consulting firms that are eager to have students further along on their training path. We already see a lot of business analyst job openings, so this new degree will be giving employers more students to choose from.

Eppli: Private equity real estate firms, investment banks, and commercial real estate lenders are all going to be interested in these graduates. Low-income and workforce housing development is another area that employs our students, and it’s a big need in the United States and across the world today.

WSB: What current industry trends or business challenges could graduates of these programs help address?

Dean: There is no shortage of challenges in supply chain, which is why we’re seeing so much demand for our existing BBA students. Everybody wants to be the next Amazon, delivering packages to your door within two days, and consumers have such high expectations that meeting those expectations profitably from a supply chain perspective is very difficult. Our graduates will be well-suited to tackle those problems and lead the next generation in supply chain thinking.

Branch: The need for business analysts vastly outnumbers the students qualified for them. Many industry publications have talked about the need for companies to train them directly or for universities to develop more programs. Wisconsin is helping to answer that call of teaching more students those skill sets.

Mark Eppli discusses the new degrees with other panelists
Mark Eppli describes how the new degree builds on the Graaskamp Center’s strong reputation. Photo by David Giroux

WSB: All three of these programs incorporate real-world learning experiences. How do these cocurricular elements benefit students?

Dean: Teaching theory is certainly important and that’s going to be the backbone of any academic program, but it’s hard to bring application into the classroom in any meaningful way. So that’s where the experiences we provide through our applied learning—taking students on site visits, sending them to case competitions, bringing in company executives to talk about the challenges they’re solving—really backs up what the students are learning in the classroom and prepares them well for the future.

WSB: What excites you most about these new degree offerings?

Eppli: For decades, the Department of Real Estate and Urban Land Economics offered an M.S. degree as its flagship program. Re-activation of that degree brings us back to the future. It’s great to have it back.

Dean: We’re excited to spread the highly recognized supply chain education we are delivering to a broader group of students. We have 120 undergraduates and about 10 MBA students each year. If we get up to 25 or 30 M.S. students every year, that’s a significant increase in the number of students benefiting from the community we’ve built through the Grainger Center for Supply Chain Management.

Branch: I’m really excited about the cross-school collaboration that’s happened with the development of the business analytics degree. We’re raising the total analytical rigor of the School with the new classes we’re offering. And we’re bringing in more students. This is a great opportunity to have more diversity in the classroom and to have students learn from each other and from different perspectives.