“These two weeks have been absolutely incredible. This is the best course I have taken at UVA so far.”
“With the experience I gained in this class, I now see myself as a more desirable candidate for a job that I would enjoy.”
“This was an incredibly memorable class.”
Those are just a few of the rave course reviews students bestowed upon University of Virginia assistant professor Mary Dunaway’s January-term course collaboration with the UVA Career Center. The class, “Data Analytics and Decision-Making,” gave 23 students a crash course in data analytics software while offering face-to-face connections with companies eager to hire talented young analysts.
“Employers are operating in a digital landscape, whether in health care, retail, higher education or something else. They are collecting data, digitizing it and mining it to look for patterns, similarities or anomalies,” said Dunaway, who teaches in UVA’s School of Continuing and Professional Studies. “We wanted students to understand the analytic process and then understand how it can inform business decisions across any industry.”
January-term courses, with their short but intensive schedule, are a great opportunity for students to add a new experience or skill to their résumés.
“Part of the mission of the January term is to give faculty opportunities to flesh out and build on new ideas, and to offer applied and experiential learning opportunities,” said Dudley Doane, UVA’s director of international studies, summer and special programs. “This course is a great example.”
The class brought potential employers directly into the classroom. Guest speakers from organizations like Capital One, Fannie Mae, Apex Clean Energy and The Earnest Research Company came to talk with students. Two major data analytics software firms – SAS and Tableau – were also involved as students learned how to use their software.
At the end of the course, the career center hosted a networking session where students presented their final projects and met with company representatives for quick one-on-one interviews. The projects, completed in small teams, ranged from analysis determining which cities and industries could be most attractive to venture capitalists to a study identifying patterns in drug overdose deaths in Connecticut.
As students worked out these analyses independently, they also heard how companies use the same process to make strategic decisions in their industry.
“When you are hearing someone talk about how they use what you are currently learning, it really gives the material more perspective and meaning,” third-year mechanical engineering student Jack Stanganelli said.
Echoing comments his fellow students made in their course reviews, Stanganelli said he is now seriously considering data analytics as a career path. He plans to apply for summer internships with a few of the companies that participated in the course.
“I probably would not have known about some of these companies had I not taken this course,” he said. “It opened me up to more career options.”
Dunaway said that she loved hearing how her course impacted students’ career decisions.
“Every student had a positive response,” she said. “It was a wonderful experience, working with them, and I enjoyed it immensely.”
David Lapinski, director of employer relations at the career center, said the course was a great opportunity to introduce students to the practice of networking and directly connect them with companies.
“We wanted to build a short course that students can put on their résumés and use to apply to jobs down the road,” he said.
The course is part of the career center’s ongoing efforts to help students make valuable one-on-one connections in industries that interest them, bolstered by programs like Virginia Alumni Mentoring or Career Communities, which bring together students, faculty and alumni interested in a particular field.
According to Lapinski, data analytics skills are in demand in virtually any industry that might interest students. One study, conducted by the McKinsey Global Institute, estimated that by 2018 the U.S. could face a shortage of more than 1.5 million managers, analysts and other workers needed for robust data analytics.
Students like Stanganelli, who can now demonstrate his proficiency with cutting-edge software and present a fully researched project where he used data analytics to solve an industry problem, will likely be very appealing to companies looking to fill that void.