Program Name: Master of Science in Analytics
School: Georgia State University J. Mack Robinson College of Business
Length of Program: 16 months; start in August, finish the following December
In the fall of 2014, new Dean Richard Phillips of Georgia State University’s Robinson College of Business oversaw the launch of a promising master’s degree in analytics. The STEM-based degree would not, as he tells Poets&Quants, be “analytics lite, MBA-style,” but rather the kind of analytics data science course you might find in a computer science department. The face-to-face residential program would be math-heavy, requiring students to have three semesters of calculus and linear algebra, with faculty from a wide range of disciplines you wouldn’t normally find in a business school: computer science, engineering, AI.
The plan: Provide an immersive and experiential learning opportunity that creates graduates with an understanding of how the modern workplace has become more project-focused than ever, and how employers expect the contractors they hire to be fully trained. In other words, graduate students who can handle real-world issues.
High hopes attended the launch of the new degree program. That fall, three students enrolled.
“I ran it at a massive loss, because we weren’t approved by the state of Georgia until the middle of June, and I told the recruiting team here, ‘Just go find me five people,'” Phillips recalls. “They got me three.”
DEMAND GROWS BEYOND ATLANTA
Phillips laughs about it now, because the Robinson Master of Analytics didn’t take long to recover from its inauspicious beginnings. The 16-month program’s December 2015 cohort numbered 37, all of whom won placement before the program ended; meanwhile, “The last cohort (of 47 students) just graduated in December, we had 100% placement of them as well,” Phillips says. The next cohort will be even more, 50 students.
Nor has the program remained a local one. While employers include the Georgia-based SunTrust and Church’s Chicken, and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, now Robinson’s analytics master’s graduates are finding work far and wide — think Honeywell, Assurant, Epsilon.
“There was a lot of demand in the Atlanta area to begin with,” Phillips concedes, “but we’re starting to place in other parts of the country as well. One of the strategic partners that we’ve built for this is out of New York City, and so I’m sure we’ll place with them. They’re interviewing students right now.”
FACULTY SIZE AS AN ADVANTAGE
In launching and evolving the Master of Analytics, the view, Phillips says, has been that the future world is happening no matter what, and the college must act to stay relevant. In that regard, he says, Robinson College has some advantages.
Robinson is the fourth-largest accredited B-school in the U.S. by faculty size, with 202, trailing only Indiana University, Arizona State University, and Baruch College. Seeing that size as a kind of cushion for experimentation, Phillips says Robinson decided it would invite Ph.D.s from nontraditional disciplines to join the faculty “and still have 180 other people who are doing finance and accounting and marketing. But we would have a unique resource to help train students and also to collaborate with faculty and our business partners to help bring about this future world.” The new faculty would work out of a new shop called the Institute for Insight, and all the thinking would be forward.
“We’re really excited about what we’re doing here,” Phillips says.
Why did Robinson launch the program? “Our mentality here is that all products, processes, and services of the future are going to become informationally intensive. The deployment of that mindset across both industry and society is massive. So there’s going to be a lot of people that need to be able to understand how to operate in that coming environment. And the waves are already washing up on the shore.
“I became the new dean a little over two years ago and we asked ourselves, ‘What do we need to do to be relevant as a business school if we think there’s this deployment of this particular technology which is so overarching it’s going to affect all areas of society? And one of the answers to that question is, it’s not just business Ph.D.s that are going to be relevant to the answer. When you look around, software engineers, computer scientists, people that have Ph.D.s in artificial intelligence, people that have Ph.D.s in data visualization — these nontraditional Ph.D. disciplines are having a massive impact on business.
“We are a large business school and we want to be relevant in that environment, so we thought we could invite 15 to 20 people with Ph.D.s in these types of disciplines that normally reside in engineering departments or in computer science departments, into the business school and still have 180 other people who are doing finance and accounting and marketing. But we would have a unique resource to help train students and also to collaborate with faculty and our business partners to help bring about this future world. So we created the Institute for Insight as a place to hire Ph.D.s in computer science, industrial engineering, electrical engineering … My guess is, I’m the only dean of a business school in the United States who hired someone with a Ph.D. in electrical engineering.”
How is it different from what else is on the market? “One of the main things we’re doing here which I think is unique in business school is, this program is housed in a new academic unit that the college created — the first new academic unit the college has created in a couple of decades, the Institute for Insight. Between full-time faculty and a set of executives-in-residence, we’ll have 12 faculty members in the institute. So our business students are going to be taking half of their classes or more that are taught by faculty that have different backgrounds, computer science or engineering or some nontraditional disciplines. That’s going to produce a very different student.”
Who is the ideal applicant and student? “We are looking for students whose undergraduate degrees were in computer science or mathematics or statistics — people that are coming out of mathematically rigorous economics or undergraduate finance programs. We are looking for people that have calculus and linear algebra. … We’re not teaching people to run canned software solutions. We want people that can code in native languages so that they can develop the new products and services that will happen in business going forward — not just take best practices that have been defined somewhere else and apply it in new places.”
What’s the application process? Are GMATs or GREs required? An essay? GMAT or GRE are accepted. There are two essays of 250 words: “List your short-term and long-term goals after completing the Master of Science in Analytics” and “What characteristics do you possess that make you a good fit for the Robinson College of Business and the Master of Science in Analytics?” There is also an optional essay in which applicants are urged to provide additional information or share “extenuating circumstances” with the Admissions Committee.
Applicants may submit unofficial transcripts; they are not required to submit letters of recommendation, but they are required to submit an updated resume. Official transcripts are required if offered admission.
What are the application deadlines? First round is April 1; late application deadline is June 15 — “but we can’t promise we can process an application at that point,” Phillips says.
What can a student do to best prepare for the program in advance of its start? Books to read? Podcasts to listen to? TED talks to watch? It’s important, Phillips says, that students have three semesters of calculus and linear algebra to prepare for the program. That hasn’t been a problem for international students, who “typically have a lot more math. But one of the things that we know, particularly for domestic students, is that they will maybe have single-variable calculus but maybe have not gotten through multi-variable, so this year we’ve developed a new pathway for them.” It’s an eight-week summer course, a “math and programming boot camp” designed to give students the mathematical preparation that they need to be successful in the master’s program, Phillips says.
“Even if they’ve come out of undergraduate degrees where they didn’t quite get all the way there, there’s such demand for these types people,” he says, “we want to create a bigger funnel for them to be able to get into a program like this.”
What will students learn in the program? What’s the program format? The class is face-to-face instruction. There are 10 classes, with sequences in programming and machine learning, statistics and econometrics, and unstructured and large-scale data management. The core: Data Programming for Analytics (3 hours); Unstructured Data Management (3 hours); Operations Research Models and Methods (3 hours); Machine Learning for Analytics (3 hours); Statistical Foundations for Analytics (3 hours); Econometric Modeling for Analytics (3 hours); Introduction to Analytical Programming and Numerical Methods (2 hours); and Database Management Systems (3 hours). Electives include Introduction to Statistical Learning (3 hours), Predictive Analytics in Health Care (3 hours), Risk Analytics (3 hours), Unstructured Data Analytics (3 hours), and Marketing Analytics (3 hours).
“Once students have that foundational material of what I would call STEM-based data science, they are allowed to take three to four electives in application areas of their interest,” Phillips says. “Some of them will take them in information systems and the management of information technology, and in that area they might drill down into ERP (enterprise resource planning) systems or things like that. We have a health IT area here that they can drill into. Cybersecurity is an option. Our quantitative marketing group here is very strong; from a research productivity perspective they rank sixth in the country today. And Robinson has the largest dedicated risk management department of any U.S. business school that I’m aware of, and they can go take courses in that area as well. For example, they run a master’s of actuarial science program, and they also run a quantitative risk management graduate program.”
Is there a capstone or special project? If so, describe it? “We specifically did not include a course that has a capstone project, because one of the struggles students always have with a capstone project is, they always happen in the final semester. Half of the students in the capstone are worried about looking for jobs more than they are finishing and getting an A, and the other half already got a job and they don’t care as much. So you end up with a bunch of weird dynamics in those capstone projects.
“So we’ve done something different. We’ve built a co-curricular set of programs that students can take, in two basic forms. One are a set of boot camps where they can take additional coursework taught by industry in different application areas — so we’ll have boot camps in SAS (statistical analysis system) coding, for example, with application in different areas, or data visualization with application in different areas.
“The other thing that we’ve done is, we are strategically building relationships with business partners to bring us their data-oriented and information-oriented problems, and then we run applied research projects called Insight Sprints. Insight Sprints are eight- to 10-week projects that have very clear questions that students and faculty are asked to answer, and they have to deliver the answers to at the end of that 10-week time period. The intention is to act very much like a capstone project, except as a student you need to be hired onto the project. You need to want it, and you need to prove yourself on it if you want to get on a second Insight Sprint later on.”
One of the sprints conducted in 2016 was for American Red Cross. Students and faculty did a longitudinal study of blood donors to identify repeat and high-value donors, analyzing demographic, geographic, or behavioral profiles for donors who stop donating versus donors who continue to donate at each stage. They then offered insights on drivers of donor loss and retention.
“We call it an immersive and experiential learning opportunity, so it’s not just action-based coursework. We’re actually building an immersive, into-a-business learning experience. And these students end up learning by doing as they go through it — and they don’t have to wait until the end of the program to get this kind of experience.”
What do you expect student outcomes to be? “We want students that come out of the business school to be able to read a white paper produced out of the research and development shop at Google that was produced by somebody that has a Ph.D. in statistics or computer science or econometrics. We want our students to be able to read those papers, understand why it is that they’re important, understand that there is no canned software solution that already allows you to implement that methodology, and be able to go and program it up natively and be able to deliver the solution for the company.”