by Colton Campbell

Curiosity may not be good for the cat, but it’s never hurt an economist.

University of West Georgia students were encouraged to cultivate their curiosity during the recent seventh annual SAS Analytics Summit, hearing from numerous professionals in the field of data analytics and presented their own research.

Panelists (L-R) Shevawn Christian, Lloyd Lay, Amanda Hand and Anu Gupta
Panelists (L-R) Shevawn Christian, Lloyd Lay, Amanda Hand and Anu Gupta

Student projects presented during the summit covered a wide range of topics, from how streaming services have affected box-office revenues to predicting the quality of college football recruiting classes.

Dr. William “Joey” Smith, chair of the Department of Economics in the Richards College of Business, 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 Certificate in Data Analytics 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.”

The summit, hosted by the Department of Economics, 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 the SAS Institute for predictive analytics, business intelligence and data management.

Keynote speakers were Mary-Elizabeth Eddlestone, analytics technical adviser at SAS, and Chavis Paulk, division director for administration and analytics in the Governor’s Office of Planning and Budget.

Eddlestone spoke on how students can become outstanding data scientists, and Paulk offered insight on how he and his team detect anomalies in federal aid programs.

Paulk’s division is responsible for the fiscal and human resources functions of various statewide agencies. In his current role, he’s developed a system of fraud detection with his team members to ensure participant integrity in aid programs.

“When I graduated from college, there was a concept of big data and data mining, but it wasn’t quite called ‘data analytics’ at the time,” he said. “Some of the smartest people I know are inquisitive and see the raw power in data and try to leverage it. We like to say we’re using our superpowers for good in our office.”

Eddlestone said she’s been on a quest her entire career to “demystify” analytics and help people solve business problems using data.

“Data science is a multi-disciplinary field that uses scientific methods, processes, algorithms and systems to extract knowledge and insights from structured and unstructured data,” Eddlestone said. “Data scientists collect large amounts of unruly data and transform it into a usable form to inform wise business decisions.”

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

Speaking on the panel were Shevawn Christian, a project manager for Delta Air Lines; Anu Gupta, director of data science for Epsilon; Amanda Hand, an advanced analytics and data science consultant and founding member at Aspirent; and Lloyd Lay, a data analytics contractor in revenue management for the InterContinental Hotels Group.

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

Chavis Paulk
Chavis Paulk

“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.”

Smith said with the current group of certificate graduates, more than 60 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. Plans are also in motion to offer a Data Boot Camp program this summer.

“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.”

Eddlestone said the blend of the theoretical and practical will suit UWG students well after graduation.

“If I’m a potential employer, I’m not going to ask about the courses you took, but I want to know if you can take everything you learned and put it toward something real,” she said. “Do you have a passion for solving complex problems? Choose this because it’s your passion. It’s who we are: analytical problem-solvers with an insatiable curiosity.”

Photography by Julia Mothersole

Posted on June 6, 2019