The Wisconsin School of Business continues its investment in business analytics and adds to its portfolio of master’s degree offerings with the development of the Master of Science-Business: Data, Insights, and Analytics (MSDIA), the school’s first fully online program offering.
The new degree, designed to be completed part time over two years, aligns with WSB’s vision of creating specialized, market-driven graduate programs in high-demand disciplines that meet student needs for greater flexibility, accessibility, and personalization. The MSDIA launched in Fall 2023 with a first cohort of 21 students, many of whom are early to mid-career professionals and balancing school with working full time and family obligations, and 29 more enrolled to begin the program this spring.
“The MSDIA program has positively impacted my career as an investment data manager by improving my technical skills, teaching me best practices, and exposing me to the latest technology used in the data analytics industry today,” says Brad Behrend (MS ’25), an investment data manager with the State of Wisconsin Investment Board. “The program’s design has also allowed me to maintain a healthy balance with my family and work commitments.”
Creating the MSDIA
Analytics expertise in industry is in high demand; a 2022 statistic from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicted a faster-than-average 11% expected growth in management analyst jobs alone between 2021 and 2031.
Cody Baldwin, who serves as MSDIA program director, witnessed this demand firsthand from the runaway success of WSB’s in-person Master of Science-Business: Analytics (MSBA), launched in 2019. The program currently ranks #8 in the U.S. among business analytics master’s programs according to QS World University Rankings. Last year, WSB received 600 applications for only 120 spots and currently holds a 100% post-graduation placement rate.
From conversations with alumni and employers to prospective students and WSB faculty, Baldwin and his team kept hearing a similar message about the interest in analytics and the desire for an online delivery format with a more flexible, part-time program pace. With that feedback in mind, the creation of an MSDIA degree felt like a natural progression that built upon the MSBA’s design and successes.
“We’ve honed the curriculum, we’ve honed the projects and experiences, and we took those lessons learned and applied them to the online program,” says Baldwin. “We know how to do analytics. We know how to build analytics talent.”
Cross-disciplinary curriculum, standout cloud expertise
MSDIA students must complete 15 courses (30 credits) taken asynchronously throughout the two years they are in the program.
Courses are designed to weave key topics and trends throughout, such as data visualization, robotic process automation, and ethics. Students will come away with experience using analytics tools like Python, R, SQL, Tableau, AWS, and Snowflake.
One of the unique aspects of the program is that it’s cross-disciplinary—not housed in a specific department like in many business schools.
“That was intentional,” says Baldwin. “Philosophically and literally, it is separate. We have faculty that teach in risk and insurance, finance, information systems, etc. It’s challenging sometimes from a scheduling perspective but it’s worth it.”
Another differentiator from other analytics programs—and it’s a key one—is the focus on cloud computing.
“We were hearing from employers about our in-person program that it was great that our students have these foundational analytics skills, but they wanted them to be able to do it in a cloud computing environment,” Baldwin says. Baldwin himself is an analytics expert, having managed global teams on $60 million analytics portfolios for HP prior to entering academia, where he taught analytics at Brigham Young University–Hawaii as an assistant professor before joining WSB.
“We’ve built that expertise and the coursework in cloud computing and it gives students an edge,” he says. “Most other analytics programs haven’t gotten there yet.”
Amazon Web Services, the leading cloud platform in existence, chose WSB as one of only a handful of academic partners in the analytics and analytics programs arena.
The program has also invested in top instructors: Cloud computing expert Katie Gaertner joined WSB this fall as a business analytics lecturer in the Department of Risk and Insurance, teaching MSDIA’s Data Visualization and Cloud Technologies course. She brings extensive experience in data analysis, data science, and cloud computing from her time as an analyst in both the public and private sectors, including for three Utah governors and most recently in the financial industry as a machine learning engineer leading cloud data strategy.
Gaertner says her course is designed to prepare students for what they will encounter as analytics professionals. During the class, students are assigned Amazon Web Services accounts that they use to perform hands-on labs using real-world data.
“To be a competitive job candidate in today’s data industry, a student needs to have a clear understanding of cloud technology: what it is, what it can do, its advantages, and its drawbacks,” Gaertner says. “They should also feel comfortable navigating cloud data tools like data lakes, scalable data warehouses, and machine learning services.”
Community and connection
One of WSB’s biggest priorities with an online program was to create a sense of community and connection where students can thrive. With nearly half of the MSDIA’s first cohort hailing from outside of Wisconsin, including several located internationally, creating that relationship was key.
Baldwin credits Suzanna Park Hogendorn, the program’s student services specialist, with “setting the tone” of students feeling comfortable reaching out to her.
“I am invested in our students’ success,” says Hogendorn, who says students need and value that sense of community and structure. “In all my communications, I emphasize that they can rely on me for support and assistance. “
Thanks to Hogendorn, the rolling admission cycle has also served as an excellent connection point, Baldwin says. When students apply, the admissions team reviews it almost immediately, and Hogendorn can then reach out to welcome them.
“They already know early on that they have support,” says Baldwin. “That’s one thing that we were really concerned about is that they feel like they’ve got the support they need. They feel like they’re a Badger.”
Students graduating from the program have a wide range of industries and areas of focus to choose from. Some common job titles for analytics graduates include everything from data analyst and data engineer to inventory or sports analyst.
Annemarie Hickey (MS ’25), an MSDIA student and assistant coach for the University of Wisconsin–Madison’s women’s volleyball team, is using her data analytics knowledge in the field of sports analytics to improve athletic performance. She says the MSDIA program “has empowered me to revolutionize” how she approaches coaching.
“This program has ignited my passion to educate and inspire the world of volleyball,” says Hickey. “Armed with the knowledge and insights gained through the MSDIA, I’m determined to share this valuable information with fellow coaches, athletes, and enthusiasts. I believe that by promoting the use of data and analytics in volleyball, we can elevate the sport to new levels, helping players reach their full potential and fans can gain a deeper knowledge of the game. The MSDIA has empowered me not only to excel in my coaching role but also to contribute to the broader volleyball community’s growth and understanding.”
Baldwin says he looks forward to the MSDIA’s continued success and the success of its students.
“The reward for me comes a year or two after graduation, when students come to campus and talk about what they’ve learned and how this program has helped them. We’ve had success in this area [of analytics] before and this program is going to produce similar success.”