by Colton Campbell

University of West Georgia students who graduate with a certificate in data analytics can see the future – no crystal ball needed.

People standing around a chartThese Richards College of Business students aren’t time travelers or seers. Rather, they’ve learned how to gather and curate large amounts of data, identify patterns and forecast the future.

Student projects presented at the sixth annual SAS Analytics Summit, held recently on campus at UWG, covered a wide range of topics, from how college basketball coach salaries will continue to grow to how an automobile tire distributor can maximize profits.

The economics department in the Richards College of Business hosted the summit, which brought together more than 50 students, faculty members and professionals who work in data analytics from across the country. The summit is named after SAS, previously “Statistical Analysis System,” a software suite developed by SAS Institute for predictive analytics, business intelligence and data management.

Dr. William “Joey” Smith, chair of the economics department, opened the daylong summit, sharing the importance of interacting with data analysts for the data analytics program at UWG.

“The major takeaway I get from this event each year is finding out what techniques and insights I need to bring back into the program’s curriculum,” Smith said. “I’m teaching from inside a college curriculum, which might not always line up with best practices in the real world, especially when technology is changing so quickly. It’s the conversations I’ve had at these summits that have helped make this program better every year.”

Keynote speakers were André de Waal, analytical consultant at SAS, and Mary-Elizabeth Eddlestone, analytics technical adviser at SAS. De Waal presented a sentiment analysis of President Donald Trump’s tweets, and Eddlestone spoke on how to discover patterns in transactional data using a SAS application.

A woman stands at a podium.“I really want these amazing, bright students to know that you can take all the things you’re learning in these data analytics classes and apply them in so many ways,” Eddlestone said. “I’ve had so much fun with economics in my career, and I’ve been able to be part of some cutting-edge work, where we take the theory we learn in class and apply it in the real world.”

In her keynote remarks, Eddlestone used the example of a grocery store and how, by using data analytics, the manager of the store could identify and capitalize on the likelihood of a shopper to buy certain items – like wine and cheese – on the same shopping trip.

“This transactional data gives us the ability to dive in and find patterns,” Eddlestone said. “That can help us increase personalization, recommend certain products, improve our store layout and streamline all our processes to make the shopping experience more intuitive.”

A panelist of speakers also presented their insight during the summit, with five data analysts from a variety of industries encouraging students and answering questions on current issues in data analytics.

Speaking on the panel were Amanda Hand, an advanced analytics and data science consultant and founding member at Aspirent; David Johnson, a partner at Cane Bay Partners VI LLLP; Lloyd Lay, a data and analytics consultant and thought leader; Brittany Spencer, a forecast analyst at Southern Company Services; and Ronald Walker, the director of analytics at Epsilon Marketing.

Smith said he hopes events like the SAS Analytics Summit help grow the data analytics program at UWG.

“We’re hoping to see some new opportunities in the next year, with a possible interdisciplinary certificate that encompasses courses in the economics department, but also the departments of mathematics and departments in the College of Social Sciences,” Smith said. “Further down the road, we’d like to see an undergraduate degree that focuses on data and business analytics.”

A panel of speakers.Smith said with the current group of certificate graduates, more than 50 students have now passed the program. To earn the certificate, students must pass four classes: statistics I and II; business forecasting; and econometrics and analytics.

“The goal of our program has always been to balance the acquisition of theoretical knowledge with practical application,” Smith said. “This type of analysis and work isn’t for everybody, but I commend the students for the work they’ve done, and I look forward to seeing where they take this knowledge and technical skill they’ve earned.”

In her closing statement, Eddlestone reminded students to always be curious.

“Curiosity is the cornerstone of good analytics,” she said. “Never stop learning. Don’t let an employer tell you they’re doing something because they’ve always done it this way. Be curious. Look for things no one else is looking for.”

Posted on May 17, 2018