By Victoria Nneji
The winner of 2018 UPS George D. Smith Prize is The University of Tennessee Haslam College of Business Master of Science in Business Analytics program. UT Haslam launched its first statistics program in 1940 and had its first student graduate in 1943. A woman named Jane (Greer) Puckett was a talented student who was rejected by the school of engineering but was welcomed by the school of business. Puckett went on to contribute to the Manhattan Project and was later featured in the book “The Atomic City Girls” (2018).
UT has partnered with Hanes and Coca-Cola Refreshments and many other industry partners. One partner and alumnus, Dave Clark, is now Senior Vice President of Worldwide Operations and Customer Service at Amazon. Clark is quoted saying: “people who can do high-level math are practically a commodity. People who can figure out which problem is the right one to solve and then apply high-level math are both expensive and elusive. Those who can communicate effectively the answer in such a way that managers can understand … priceless.” UT has worked to develop their students in this way with curriculum that includes business fundamentals, courses in effective soft skills training, as well as relevant analytical problem-solving content.
In their Capstone Experience, students are presented with opportunities to engage in real-world problems in real-time with industry partners. The results have impacted the companies involved. Faculty thoughtfully prepare the opportunity to ensure that the teams are matched with a mentor, company, and formal statement of work.
The Business Analytics Forum is run biannually by UT to introduce speakers from a broad range of fields. The forum facilitates exchange between companies to share best practices, become engaged in academic research, and recruit talent early on. Faculty can reality-check the problems they are working on. The forum validates what the students have been learning.
Two students presented their experiences in the program. One student said that the combination of up-to-date education on new technologies by a highly skilled group of professors led graduates to make an impact on the companies that hire them. He highlighted the adaptable curriculum that prepared students to adapt to new ways of doing business. A great summary of the value of the MS in business analytics came from Madeleine Beatty, a graduate who is now a data science manager at Amazon. She noted that the typical model of teaching students to go from problem to solution to a grade doesn’t work in the real world, but she gained skills that allowed her to navigate ambiguity and make sense of massive amounts of data. UT Haslam has created a useful model for future direction for other universities to follow in order for education to lead the way for this industry.