UMass Lowell students master the science of business analytics
Dell wanted to analyze 2 million records from its supply chain to maximize computer sales efficiency. Enterprise Bank wanted to know which mobile banking services its customers use and why. MFS Investments wanted a better understanding of its project management database to predict timelines and completion dates.
Those were among the eight industry-partner capstone projects that the first cohort of Master of Science in Business Analytics (MSBA) students completed before graduating from the Manning School of Business this spring. Eleven students earned the school’s first MSBA degrees in May, while seven more are expected to complete the program this summer.
“Being in the first cohort was a great experience,” says Neha Ajgaonkar, who enrolled in the program after earning her bachelor’s in management studies and master’s in commerce in her home country of India. She says the MSBA program gave her valuable hands-on experience with scripting languages such as R, Python and SQL and software like IBM SPSS Modeler, Weka and RapidMiner.
“Coming from a management background, it feels good to know that I can now use these tools to solve analytical problems,” says Ajgaonkar, who received the Outstanding MSBA Student award at the Manning School’s graduate Hooding Ceremony. She says her MSBA degree will broaden her career options in a rapidly growing field: “Analytics is in such demand in every industry.”
To meet this growing demand, the Manning School launched the MSBA program in 2016. The 30-credit program, under the direction of coordinator Tom Sloan, has six core courses covering data mining, statistics, database management and decision analytics. Students choose three electives from one of four tracks: Big Data analytics, managerial decision making, marketing analytics and finance analytics.
The Manning School also added a new three-course business analytics option to its Master of Business Administration (MBA) program this spring, and a new Graduate Certificate in business analytics is in the works.
“Companies have a lot of data, and they want to be analytical in their decision-making process,” says Prof. Luvai Motiwalla, former chair of the Operations and Information Systems Department who spearheaded the MSBA program along with Assoc. Prof. Harry Zhu, the current department chair.
The program’s second cohort drew 20 students in 2017, and Motiwalla expects that number to climb this fall.
Students worked in teams of two or three on the capstone projects, which also included industry partners Digital Federal Credit Union (DCU), Semcasting, Home Health Foundation and an area software company that wished to remain anonymous. Another team of students worked with the UMass Lowell hockey team to predict player performance.
“This is an outstanding example of experiential learning for our students and relationship-building with the business community,” says Manning School Dean Sandy Richtermeyer.
Students Jonathan Wolfe and Cristian Joia built a household income prediction model for Semcasting, a North Andover company that provides marketers with data and audience targeting solutions. Using a data set of 4.7 million records, the students’ model looks at regional differences in income levels to predict the incomes in households targeted by Semcasting marketing campaigns.
“It was nice to use software in actual situations — this is a company that is dealing with a problem right now — versus working with a dataset that nobody is going to look at down the road,” says Joia, who is completing his MSBA through the Plus 1 Program after earning his bachelor’s in business (with a concentration in finance) in 2017.
“We were able to take everything we learned the past few semesters, like using R, writing code and using regression models, and apply them in one project,” adds Wolfe, who earned his bachelor’s in business (with a concentration in marketing) from the Manning School in 2016.
Brian Collins, executive vice president and director of operations at Enterprise Bank, was impressed by the work of students Christine Vaudo and Alex Twogood, who used descriptive and prescriptive analytics to look at customers’ mobile banking behaviors.
“We gave them all the data and wanted to see what they’re seeing,” Collins says. “We expected them to come up with some things we haven’t seen, and they did a good job.”
David Araujo, senior vice president of technology and innovation at DCU, worked with students Hsinyi Shen, Ijne Huang and Yufei Guo on a project to help protect against credit card fraud. He was “blown away” by the students’ confidence and poise as they presented their capstone.
“It shows that they’re prepared for the real world,” says Araujo, who interviewed several Manning School students interested in data analytics for summer internships before the capstone presentations.
Buoyed by the industry partnerships, Motiwalla’s next goal is to create a center for business analytics at the Manning School that will provide students with the computing power needed to analyze ever-increasing amounts of Big Data. The center could also provide industry partners with access to students looking to take on more real-world projects.