How to arm graduate students with real-world skills

Oklahoma State University has dramatically expanded the number of companies hiring its graduates by offering analytics coursework and SAS certification classes to its graduate students in business, engineering and statistics.

"We have companies such as Apple, Amazon, Verizon, eBay, PayPal, FedEx and SAS hiring our students," says Professor Goutam Chakraborty, founder of OSU's Data Mining Certificate Program. "We have never had these companies hire our students before."

Students have caught on. The number of students taking the classes has tripled since the first one was offered eight years ago. "We've had about 375 students graduate with data mining certificates, and we'll have 75 this year," says Chakraborty, who has expanded the offerings to include coursework in text analytics and has plans to offer high-performance analytics. The coursework is attracting a higher caliber of student and creating a happy problem for Chakraborty – he's having a tough time accommodating all the students who want to study data mining and analytics.

Providing something 'concrete'

Chakraborty trained as a mechanical engineer and went on to get degrees in applied statistics and marketing. A professor of marketing in the Spears School of Business, his specialty is teaching quantitative marketing. That data-driven approach led him to want to teach data mining to his students. And that led to SAS.

“We had been teaching data mining, database marketing and customer relationship management, but we never had a way to give students something more concrete. The SAS certificate program gives the students something tangible above and beyond coursework."

Chakraborty chose SAS because it works well for university-based research projects and is recognized in the business world. "SAS is available in most of the Fortune 1000 companies. When the students go out, it gives them instant credibility. They can hit the ground running."

 

The fact that companies that hire from us come back again and again looking for our students is the marketplace validation of what we're doing right.

Dr. Goutam Chakraborty
Professor of Marketing and Founder of SAS and OSU Data Mining Certificate Program

Giving students a boost in the job world

The data mining certificate program is available to students in any major, but is popular with those getting graduate degrees in management of information systems, business administration, industrial engineering, and statistics. The university also offers predictive modeling and Base SAS certifications. These options have provided the graduates with a “recession-proof” armor as they look for jobs.

"In spite of the global recession, students have gotten great job offers. From 2008 through 2011, when the US job market was really bad, many of our students had several job offers. As far as I've tracked, 100 percent of the students who have gone through this program are gainfully employed," Chakraborty says, adding, "Anecdotally, we hear they are getting starting salaries that are $5,000 to $10,000 higher than comparable grads without the data mining certificate."

About 30 percent of the students accept jobs with financial companies such as Capital One and Citibank. The telecom, e-commerce and retail industries also scoop up OSU grads. "Web analytics has become a very big field, and we have a lot of students going in that area. It's across the board in terms of the breadth of where the students are finding employment," Chakraborty says.

He raises money each year to take 20 to 30 students to SAS conferences so they have an opportunity to interact with analytical experts. And he encourages the students to publish research papers on their projects. "All of these provide the whole range of real-world experience." For a recent project, Chakraborty's students used SAS Text Analytics to analyze tweets on behalf of a company interested in measuring the value of customer sentiment.

After graduation, Chakraborty keeps in touch with former students via LinkedIn and Facebook and encourages them to stay in touch with each other.

He is gratified to get messages from students noting how well-prepared they feel in their first jobs. He thinks other universities would be wise to add programs to train the next generation of data mining and analytics professionals. "The fact that companies that hire from us come back to us again and again looking for our students is the marketplace validation of what we're doing right."

Challenge

Provide business, engineering and statistics graduate students with skills valuable in the work world.

Solution

OSU offers certificate programs in SAS data mining and SAS certifications in SAS programming, as well as predictive modeling.

Benefits

All 375 certificate students received job offers within three months of graduation, many at a salary premium above their fellow business and engineering classmates and at selective companies such as Capital One, Apple, Google, Verizon and FedEx. 

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