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Analyze This

Thursday, October 12, 2017
Jorge Colazo uses a whiteboard

Under finance and decision sciences professor Jorge Colazo, Trinity's business analytics and technology program is placing Tigers into data science careers

Trinity’s business analytics and technology program surging to match world’s “data science” boom

by Jeremy Gerlach

For Patrick Roland ’17, a career in data science is like assembling a big puzzle.

“I love to solve problems,” says Roland, a business systems analyst at Cisco Systems. “I love working with data, just putting it all together in my mind. One minute, you’re handed a bunch of jumbled numbers that mean nothing to anyone, but when you analyze them, that data means everything—it becomes actionable.”

The terms “data science” or “analytics,” in a basic sense, describe the process of obtaining actionable insights from data stored by companies or institutions. For companies such as Amazon or Google, this could mean analyzing consumers’ online search patterns to match them with products or advertisements they’re more likely to be interested in. For others, analytics puts the company itself under the microscope, using data to streamline internal operations

No matter the career field, Trinity’s Business Analytics and Technology (BAT) program is putting Tigers right in the middle of the equation. In just the third year of BAT’s operation, 100 percent of Trinity graduates with BAT majors have been placed in the career field, landing jobs at top firms such as Dell and Cisco Systems, or in the business offices of NBA teams such as the San Antonio Spurs and Orlando Magic. The program, which has nearly doubled in size from 2016 to 2017 alone, takes 12 course hours to complete and is typically paired with other majors offered by Trinity’s School of Business, such as accounting, finance, or international business.

BAT is designed to be highly experiential and includes upper-level classes where students must complete at least one major project per class, in partnership with local businesses. All these projects form a portfolio before graduation, which gives students like Roland, a BAT major, an inside track to top-notch internship and job opportunities along with a growing network of Trinity’s BAT alumni.

“Everyone is trying to hire more data analysts,” Roland says. “The skills the BAT major gives you are empowering: working with data is something that gives you a voice.”

Thanks to a Trinity connection, Roland started as an intern at San Antonio-based cloud computing company Rackspace while taking BAT classes before accepting a full-time position at Cisco Systems after graduation. At Cisco, Roland works with the IT Quality Team to ensure the company’s teams of software developers test millions of lines of computer code effectively.

“The BAT program actually gives you a chance to do programming in your classes and internships,” says Roland, who took on applications such as Structured Query Language (“SQL,” pronounced “sequel”), “R,” and other programming languages at Trinity. “I was learning the same skills I would end up needing for my job.”

Although BAT majors are skilled in coding and machine learning, the degree isn’t all about machines: Data analysis plays a huge part in predicting human behavior, too. Just ask Liza Southwick ’17 and Patariya Wanachaikiat ’17, who work for NBA franchises the San Antonio Spurs and Orlando Magic, respectively.

Wanachaikiat, originally a business administration major with a concentration in marketing, wanted to add a more technical skill to her repertoire while at Trinity. After bouncing around through accounting and finance classes, she eventually took a BAT predictive analytics class that sparked her interest in the major.

“Data mining for hours can seem frustrating,” Wanachaikiat says. “But when you work through that data and finally come up with a trend, a strategy, or a solution to a problem, I think that’s the best feeling you can get.”

Wanachaikiat is now a business strategy intern with the Orlando Magic, where she helps the franchise transform customer data into a better gameday experience for fans.

“When the Magic are playing at home in Orlando, fans might sometimes arrive earlier or later and spend money differently at each game, all depending who the team is playing,” Wanachaikiat says. “So, we can use the ticket scan data—which tells you when each individual ticket was scanned at the entrance—then send that information to our vendors who provide our concessions and other services. That sort of customer insight helps them be more effective.”

Southwick, who was a BAT major with a sport management minor at Trinity, interned with Spurs Sports and Entertainment, the parent company of the San Antonio Spurs, the summer before her senior year. Now, she works for the Spurs full time as a research coordinator, transforming fan surveys and other sets of data into efficient solutions for challenges faced by the organization.

“The tools and skills I use everyday to accomplish that, I got right here in my BAT classes,”

Southwick says. “Once you get out into the real world, you’ll realize just how much of the material from BAT classes is used where you work.”

Looking beyond Trinity’s campus and into the workplace has been a constant goal for  Jorge Colazo, chair of the Department of Finance and Decision Sciences. Colazo, one of the creators of the BAT degree, says the program is “one of the first, and one of the best, undergraduate degrees in analytics and data science in the country.”

“When I started researching the U.S. higher education market in 2012, I could identify only two programs in the country remotely similar to what I was envisioning with our BAT degree,” Colazo notes. “One year later, when we started rolling out the first BAT classes, there were only six other institutions offering this type of degree. Last year, when we were already graduating the second cohort of BAT majors, there were 38 others. I am proud that Trinity is at the cutting edge of this trend.”

While Southwick, Wanachaikiat, and Roland are already taking big strides in the real world, senior BAT and finance major Shivali Kansagra ’18 hopes to follow in their footsteps after graduating next year.

“My freshman year, BAT didn’t even exist as a major,” says Kansagra, who interned with Dell during the summer of 2017. “And now the program is already creating this pipeline from Trinity to all these big firms.”

As a testament to the flow of BAT students into the workplace, Kansagra is one of four Trinity students who interned with Dell during summer 2017, along with Aroosa Ajani ’18, Sterling Root ’18 and Camilla Londoño ’18.

Mike Owens, Dell vice president of global shared services, says this quartet of interns helped make improvements to the company that his department has already put into practice.

“The thing I see in graduates coming out of Trinity’s BAT program is, not only are they technically capable, but they have business savvy, and can think critically as well,” Owens says. “They come out of college with more than an academic resume: we feel that we’re bringing in someone who is ready to step in and do real work.”

At Dell, Kansagra worked on projects ranging from modifying reporting standards -- the process of analyzing current-state best practices, gathering stakeholder requirements, and bridging the gap between the two through data models that satisfy those requirements -- to supplier relations and automating processes.

“We tried to identify potential opportunities for automation, in order to make better use of our resources,’” says Kansagra, who has a permanent position lined up with Dell’s supply chain department after graduation.

While Trinity might be building data sciences pipelines to major firms, BAT graduates aren’t pinned down to any one career track, Roland notes.

“Since every single company is using data, you can switch fields pretty much wherever you want,” Roland says. “It doesn’t matter whether it’s health, technology, sports, finance -- you name it.  Right now, I’m working in tech, but somewhere down the line, I’d love to work in sports.”

“And that’s kind of the whole idea,” Colazo adds. “We designed the BAT degree in a way that shatters the barriers between traditional areas such as marketing or supply chain. What we want to teach are data-based skills that can be applied to any environment and in any functional area.”

And as more Trinity students strive to discover their own career path -- like so many puzzle pieces searching for a sweet spot -- Roland urges them to consider BAT as the “missing piece” that lets them fit into any part of the board they choose.

“You can use data to improve anything,” Roland says. “That’s what makes this career field so exciting - this isn’t limited to computing, or commerce: you could end up anywhere.”

Jeremy Gerlach is Trinity University's brand journalist. Email him at jgerlach [at] trinity.edu or find him on Twitter @JT_Gerlach.