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UVA’s Darden, McIntire Hook Up On Analytics

Darden’s Eleanor F. and Phillip G. Rust Professor of Business Administration Casey Lichtendahl, who will teach in the new MSBA program that launches this August. Darden photo

Program Name: Master of Science in Business Analytics

School: University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business & McIntire School of Commerce

Length of Program: 12 months

Cost: $54,900, plus a fee of $5,000

Late last month, the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia gave its approval to an unprecedented collaboration at the University of Virginia. This summer, UVA’s two business schools, the Darden School of Business and the McIntire School of Commerce, will team up to offer a Master of Science in Business Analytics, with the first classes beginning in August. It’s the first-ever partnership between the graduate Darden School and the McIntire School, which serves undergraduate students and those in five master’s programs.

It was a long road to get to this point, says Cyndy Huddleston, McIntire associate dean for graduate admissions and corporate relations, noting that while McIntire is known as UVA’s undergrad B-school it also has a strong reputation for specialized master’s programs, offering a portfolio of degrees in commerce, accounting, and the management of IT. When McIntire officials announced their intention to launch the new MSBA, Darden was offered the chance to join the program in accordance with an agreement between the schools. 

“We’ve been thinking about how to do this for about four years,” Huddleston tells Poets&Quants. “As a state university, as you may know, there are a lot of levels of approval!” Among the many steps the two schools took to prepare for the launch of the new MSBA, she adds, was the addition of a business analytics track to McIntire’s Master of Science in Commerce degree, “so our faculty has experience taking liberal arts science and engineering students who have no background in business analytics, and teaching them business analytics.”

CREATING BRIDGE BUILDERS

Cyndy Huddleston, McIntire associate dean for graduate admissions and corporate relations

The Darden-McIntire MSBA program is geared toward working professionals. It will be delivered via a combination of weekend, in-person sessions and online instruction, offering students a mix of analytical and technical skills as well as foundational business knowledge and leadership instruction — all the staples of business analytics instruction, but with an emphasis on the fundamentals of business and leadership in the context of real-world applications, says Casey Lichtendahl, Darden’s Eleanor F. and Phillip G. Rust professor of business administration who will teach in the program. But the new MSBA will differentiate itself from competitors in key ways, he adds.

“Most of the schools that put out business analytics programs, who want to go after that segment of the market that wants to keep their jobs and do this in one year, they go at it with more of a data science approach,” Lichtendahl tells Poets&Quants. “And what we see lacking in those programs is enough business background — to have people with both hard skills and soft skills. The business analytics person’s role in a company these days needs to be more of a translator, a communicator, a builder of bridges between the hard-skill data science people and the soft-skill strategic thinker and manager. The way we put our program together was to give it enough business context and enough training up in the domain question at the same time we’re training up on some of the harder skills within those contexts.

“So we’ll be sampling problems across the disciplines within business, from finance to accounting to marketing, and we will teach them about those problems so they understand what the manager is faced with in terms of a monetization challenge — but at the same time, bring them up to speed on the math, the stats, machine learning, the data science part of what needs to be brought to bear to solve those problems.

“So that’s the motivation. We just see a giant gap in the market, and we’re going to put this program out there with this more balanced approach between business and analytics, and see what happens.”

‘A TEAM OF FACULTY WORKING TOGETHER’

The degree is intended for early-career professionals, those with two or more years of full-time work experience who seek to enhance their existing business analytics skills or build a career in business analytics. It will be delivered in UVA’s new, state-of-the-art facilities in the downtown Arlington, Virginia, district of Rosslyn — close to both Union Station and the Washington, D.C., area airports, making the program accessible for those commuting from most U.S. metropolitan areas. “We’re hopefully going to go after that local market of folks who don’t want to leave their job and can do this on the weekend and part of the evenings during the week,” Lichtendahl says.

Via six modules, the program will teach students a wide array of analytical and technical skills as well as foundational business knowledge and other soft-skill instruction. Key to the success of that instruction, Huddleston says, is the pooling of resources between the two B-schools.

“The more faculty you bring to the curriculum, the better, in terms of analytics,” Huddleston says. “Analytics is now found in every functional area as well as every industry within business, so as schools are building out their analytics faculty, each faculty member is coming from a different cross-section of experience — functionally and/or industry. So the broader you can get that set of experiences, the better for the student.”

“We teach and have taught other programs in a modular format. There are six modules to the program, and the reason I think that’s a distinction is that underneath each of those modules are your traditional courses — but because the module has a theme and a topic, it really encourages the faculty to see those courses within that module as a portfolio. So it becomes a team of faculty working together. For example, the third module is predictive analytics and machine learning. So you’ve got a group of faculty — some coming from a business perspective, some from the analytics perspective, some from more of a leadership perspective — and they’re all working together to curate the set of skills and classes, content, that will help the students really understand predictive analytics and machine learning — both from the technology side and the business side.

“There’s a great deal of flexibility that that creates that individual courses don’t create. And it allows us over time to keep the content of the curriculum really fresh, because every year that group is getting together and going, ‘What’s changed this year, and how do we integrate that into our courses?'”

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