When you ask Fortune 500 companies where they can gain the most competitive advantage today, they are often quick to call out business analytics and their ability to turn data into decisions. Companies realize they need to harness their data; at the same time there is an important shortage of managers and analysts who can extract the value from data.
At the Wisconsin School of Business at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, administrators and faculty came together to develop a new STEM-designated, one-year program that prepares students to seize opportunities in the fast-growing world of turning data into decisions.
“There’s a demand to improve businesses across the entire country; we view this new business analytics program as supplying a critical piece in developing industries, and in developing a skill set that’s going to be important for businesses in the future,” says Daniel Bauer, associate professor of risk and insurance and academic co-director for the program.
As the first in-person master’s degree in business analytics in the state, the Wisconsin School of Business’ MS degree is an answer to the industry’s demand for nimble, analytical professionals who can analyze data and present solutions.
“Analytics overarches all disciplines and industries, so we intentionally brought faculty from all departments to help students learn to leverage these new skills in particular industries and across different functions,” adds Bauer. That approach led to the development of a wide range of application classes, including health analytics, people analytics, supply chain analytics, and marketing analytics, allowing students to study across the entire business school.
Created for business and nonbusiness majors, the program is developed to give students the skills they need to make an immediate impact but also have the potential to become leaders and bring change across industries. “We are actively looking to bring in a diverse set of students. Anyone curious to understand the power of analytics and how to help businesses move forward, that’s a fit for our program,” says Kristin Branch, director for the business analytics program. Branch will coach students, help them learn from industry, mentors, and bridge the classroom experience to the real world.
Students will also benefit from the School’s new tech-focused multi-learning space, the Learning Commons, where they have access to a Finance and Analytics Lab and active classrooms for hands-on workshops with faculty, alumni, and corporate partners.
As with other WSB graduate programs, career support is an integral part of the MS operations and technology management in business analytics. “We are going to train students to develop the sought-after skill set they are looking for, and that will help them get the job, the industry, and the career trajectory they desire,” says Gina Jenkins, director of career management.
After launching earlier this year, the School enrolled its first class this fall with 24 students—and they’re already expanding their career opportunities. “I’ve kind of learned that I really enjoy finding technical solutions for business problems, and using data tell a story,” says Rachel Hyland, a student in the first MS in business analytics class. “I was actually planning on just going straight into a career, but then upon realizing that I was interested in business analytics, found that I wasn’t to be fully prepared for a career in the field,” she adds. “I am interested in a career in consulting on business decisions.”
In the first semester, students will develop analytics skills; the curriculum includes data acquisition, analysis, visualization, machine learning, experimental design and optimization, descriptive, predictive, and prescriptive analytical approaches, as well as tools like R, Python, SQL, and Tableau.
In the second semester, there is a strong emphasis placed on real-world learning opportunities. Students will take on a consulting project where companies will share live analytical issues. There will also be a case competition, hackathons, and travels to the west coast to meet with large technology firms. Students will benefit from networking with regional and global WSB corporate partners.
Along with the new program, the School launched eight new courses ranging from machine learning to prescriptive analytics and statistics, and programming.