Advanced degree for big data gets support from big business

Translational Data Analytics Institute builds master’s degree program from scratch and seeks input from would-be employers

By Chris Booker
Office of University Communications

As businesses move to a future where every transaction and interaction is quantified and analyzed, The Ohio State University is working to prepare students for careers in this new world.

The goal of the newly launched Translational Data Analytics Institute is to enable the use of big data to solve real world problems. Now the leaders of TDAI are building a program from the ground up to teach graduate students to help solve those problems.

“One of the goals of TDAI is to engage in workforce development,” said Raghu Machiraju, TDAI’s interim executive director and Professor of Bioinformatics, and Computer Science and Engineering.

TDAI is working to develop a new professional science master’s degree to train the next generation of analytics-enabled professionals, including data scientists. The program would target recent graduates and working professionals and is expected to start in 2018.

The institute is doing its homework in order to make sure these future graduates are ready to get jobs. Earlier this month, leadership at the TDAI engaged a dozen businesses to hear perspective on what graduates of a master’s degree program would need to get jobs right away. Representatives from Cardinal Health, Hewlett-Packard Enterprise, IBM, Nationwide Insurance, Ford, Wendy’s, and others offered insight.

Data analytics jobs will be in demand. Debbie Hughes, vice president of higher education and workforce for the Business-Higher Education Forum, said there is a real demand for students with data analytic skills. She cited a report projecting that by 2020 there will be 2.72 million open positions requiring those skills.

“The thing that will differentiate the star candidates will be those who seek to understand the business side,” said Doug Bond, managing director for PricewaterhouseCoopers. “From my standpoint, the perfect scenario is to get someone right out of school who knows analytics and the techniques but also can be an expert in the industry.”

Erika Zavar, director of technology solutions and demand analytics for Cardinal Health, said it’s critical to know not only how to interpret the data but also where to find it. Training future employers to do that will be essential. “For our organization, we are data heavy. We have a lot of data spread all over the place,” Zavar said.

Industry leaders said the graduate program should serve different students on different tracks, including those who have a range of technical knowledge in the field of data analytics. The program should also be available to workers who want to take classes around their current job.

“We want to design a program that’s based on business needs. We want to think about cutting-edge and relevant skills students need to be productive,” said TDAI faculty in residence Dorinda Gallant, associate professor of quantitative research, evaluation and measurement in College of Education and Human Ecology.

More work needs to be done to move the program forward. TDAI leadership will be looking at everything from the types of students who would be well served by the graduate degree to the course structure to teaching methods.

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