In response to an increasing demand from employers for data analytics skills, the E. Claiborne Robins School of Business began to offer a new concentration in business analytics in the fall 2019 semester.
“The intent of the concentration is to help students build their data analytics skills for whatever business career that they choose to be in," said management professor Jonathan Whitaker.
This four-course concentration will provide students with the tools and technologies, such as SAS (Statistical Analysis Systems), SQL (Structured Query Language) and Python, to analyze data for business applications, according to the school’s website.
“I think the initiating element was because of employer demand,” Whitaker said. “Employers come to campus, and they want students with these skills. And therefore, student demand builds because of the employer demand.”
Before becoming a faculty member, Whitaker had worked for PricewaterhouseCoopers and A.T. Kearney as a technology consultant. He said that in the marketplace, students who were skilled in business analytics would earn a higher salary premium than students who didn’t have those skills.
“If you look at the SAS website, you can see the long and impressive list of customers for SAS," Whitaker said. "Because the business analytics concentration is designed to help our students get better jobs after graduation, we want to consider employer feedback as we sharpen our curriculum.”
Whitaker said that about three years ago, the business school had started a committee with faculty members across every discipline to make recommendations about the curriculum. Management professor Tom Mattson, a committee member, said the committee had benchmarked as many other schools as they could to find out what could be applied to the University of Richmond.
The business analytics curriculum includes INFO 201: Data Analysis Software, INFO 301: Advanced Applied Statistics, INFO 302: Business Process Optimization and INFO 303: Machine Learning for the Business Analyst. MGMT 375 Business Analytics will be phased out by spring 2020, according to the school's website.
So far, 15 juniors have declared the business analytics concentration, said Laura Thompson, assistant dean of undergraduate student services for the business school. Thompson said she expected the number to increase as more students return from study abroad.
Business analytics can be added as a secondary concentration to the business administration major to complement a concentration in accounting, economics, finance, international business, management consulting, management entrepreneurship or marketing. It can also be added as a concentration under the accounting major or economics major, according to the school's website.
Whitaker said this secondary concentration would be used to support the skills that students were developing in their main concentration.
“The whole idea is that [students] are going to use their analytic skills in some context,” Whitaker said, “whether as an auditor, as a FinTech professional or as a marketing analyst.”
Junior John Cruz, who took Whitaker's INFO 201 this semester and plans to declare the business analytics concentration, said he thought business analytics was an up-and-coming profession that was valued by employers.
Junior Jing Dong, who declared the business analytics concentration and was also in INFO 201, said she believed the course helped to prepare her for the real business world. Dong said she also felt students who had never worked with these software tools before could still succeed in the class.
Mattson agreed and said he welcomed students who had no previous knowledge of the software and programming tools.
He also emphasized the difference between the business analytics courses and the programming courses offered in the School of Arts and Sciences. Instead of building programs or learning statistical proofs, the business analytics students would be expected to learn how to solve business problems with the help of software tools.
“We are training business professionals who can apply the tools to solve business problems and communicate it to the customers," Mattson said.
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