Microsoft And Eastern Washington University Collaborate on Bachelor of Science in Data Analytics – Forbes
Note: While my column will primarily focus on machine learning, the overlap with data analytics is strong, and a program focus on business intelligence (BI) will provide people also able to implement ML algorithms for a business audience.
A constant refrain in business is that too many university graduates have a foundation in theory but not in practice. Within the BI community, there’s also a regular expression of the need for far more people who understand data analysis. A Rutgers University report last year is only one of a plethora of reports pointing to the growth in related positions. As the McKinsey Global Institute points out, “There will be a shortage of talent necessary for organizations to take advantage of big data. By 2018, the United States alone could face a shortage of 140,000 to 190,000 people with deep analytical skills as well as 1.5 million managers and analysts with the know-how to use the analysis of big data to make effective decisions.”
Because of that demand, many universities are rushing out programs in data analysis. The challenge in the first sentence of the article still remains: Will those graduates understand enough of the real-world environment to be of immediate impact? Eastern Washington University’s (EWU) business school, on its Spokane, WA, campus, is addressing that problem.
EWU announced, in August 2017, a new Bachelor of Science in Data Analytics degree program within its College of Business and Public Administration (CBPA). The new BS-DA degree differs from the existing BAB in Business Analytics by focusing more deeply on technical knowledge and including the
Professional Program (MPP) sequence to include current industry knowledge in data science.
“The MPP differs from the MCP in that it has a focus on broader issues in the industry, and is more tech agnostic,” said Keith Boyd, Director of Product Management, Microsoft Professional Program. “It made sense to work with academia to improve outcomes for students and refine the Data Science curriculum based on their experience.” The EWU program is the only one in the nation that is partnering with Microsoft to leverage the MPP content in data science, bringing current, real-world needs into the program and thereby combining strength of an academic foundation with the technical skills of the industry.
I interviewed Professor Elizabeth Tipton, the lead of the new program, about the origin and goals for the program.
The first thing to note is that Dr. Tipton is a shining example of the cross disciplinary needs of data analytics. She began her initial education in geophysics and transitioned into mathematics, focused on topology. After a few years off for personal reasons, she ended up in a business school program because it was a hot day. She was living near the University of Texas (Full disclosure from this Aggie – nobody’s perfect…) and her husband headed to the math department to get re-enrollment forms. However, it was Texas on a very hot day and the business school was closer. The department had a statistics program, Elizabeth took some classes and found she loved statistics and the focus of the business program. She earned her initial doctoral degree in business statistics with minors in management science and marketing.
The background and interests of a fellow student led her to Spokane and EWU. Dr. Tipton spent more than 15 years working with the department towards the goal of including an emphasis in data analytics. “MIS is about the necessary skills to build the infrastructure and capture, manage, store and process the data,” she said when asked about the difference in the new program. “Data Analytics focuses on what to do in order to understand and use that collected data.”
At the same time, Microsoft was feeling the pinch in the shortage of people knowledgeable about analytics, both for their internal work and to help customers as Microsoft Azure gained traction.
“Microsoft came to EWU looking for ideas in how to strengthen the MPP program,” Tipton said. “In addition, our Washington location means that we can work closely with Microsoft to ensure the blend of our academic knowledge and teaching skills with their technical understanding, to better provide our students a robust foundation for working world.”
A team, including Professor Tipton, were already looking at a data science track, and the incorporation of the MPP program as a capstone track was the remaining piece of the puzzle. EWU, Microsoft and the students will work to further develop the data analytics program so that it defines a pattern that can be rolled out to other regional universities to better prepare more graduates for a highly skilled, high demand position.
While businesses often point to academic programs focusing on theory and missing what specific companies need, certification programs can often have the opposite problem of preparing people too narrowly for anything other than a specific position using a single technology. The goal of this pilot program is to blend the strengths of both: Providing graduates with the strong fundamentals and breadth of a university education while combining it with specific knowledge in use today within the industry.
Eastern Washington University is working with Microsoft to create the Bachelor of Science in Data Analytics to address a growing need within businesses: to better understand the massive amounts of data now flooding organizations. The blend of academic and business ecosystem learning will better prepare students to address the challenges of the next few decades.
The program expects to see a few students graduate in 2018, and for the first full class to graduate in the Spring of 2019.
– The author and members of the TIRIAS Research staff do not hold equity positions in any of the companies mentioned. TIRIAS Research tracks and consults for companies throughout the electronics ecosystem from semiconductors to systems and sensors to the cloud.