AI, Machine Learning & Cloud: universities enter the future of Analytics with SAS® Viya® for Learners
Interview with Prof. Agostino Di Ciaccio - Department of Statistical Sciences, Faculty of Information Engineering, Informatics and Statistics at La Sapienza
A collaboration between an academic institution and a multinational is already standing out as a success story that connects education and business. The aim is to support students in their data science training, put them to work on real-world projects and give them high in demand, future proof, skills.
If the aim of a modern academic institution is to provide skills that match what the labor market demands, Analytics courses in colleges are definitely leading-edge: the latest survey conducted by the job search engine Indeed has revealed (link, Il Sole 24Ore) that, in Italy, data analysis professionals represent over 35% of job offers.
The University of Rome La Sapienza, keen to link the academic world with the job market, stands out as a pioneer having been the first university to join SAS® Viya® for Learners, , a global initiative launched by SAS that offers Educators the opportunity to incorporate advanced software analytics and machine learning into their coursework. In fact, only a few weeks after the global launch of SAS Viya for Learners, Professor Agostino Di Ciaccio - Department of Statistical Sciences, Faculty of Information Engineering, Informatics and Statistics at La Sapienza, decided to use this platform in his course on “Data mining and classification”. A long-time expert in Big data, Analytics and AI, professor Di Ciaccio explains why he found SAS Viya for Learners to be a winning choice both for professors and students.
Open, cloud-based, intuitive: SAS Viya at a glance
“I found that SAS Viya for Learners helps tackle and explain the world of Analytics in a much simpler way", says Professor Di Ciaccio. "The platform is cloud-based and this makes it a perfect fit for college education, while offering training in all the skills that are in demand.
It is also an open platform that can be integrated with other open-source programming languages (R, Python, and so on).
It is intuitive, both in terms of data visualization and reporting, and it’s easy to use: I incorporated SAS Viya for Learners when I was almost at the end of the course, but a few hours were enough for my students to get acquainted with the platform: they were able to work on true projects and present the solution as a part of their test”.
In this picture, Cinzia Gianfiori, SAS Academic Program Manager, Prof. Agostino Di Ciaccio with in the background students of his course on Data Mining and Prof. Mauro Vichi, Director of Statistical Sciences Department at University of Rome, La Sapienza
Out of the lab: university and businesses get connected
Doing a project that simulates real-world situations is the heart and soul of Professor Di Ciaccio's classes: he will not be satisfied with laboratory prototypes alone; students need to cover the end-to-end data analysis process. “Practice goes hand in hand with theory – says Professor Di Ciaccio - In the department of Statistical Sciences we have always moved in this direction in order to create synergies between the university and companies we collaborate with, also for internship opportunities. In this way we give our students tools and skills that are future proof. Not surprisingly, students who graduate from the department of Statistical Sciences find a job in less than a year – but many of them even as soon as they graduate, even before their master’s degree”.
Certifications: into the fast lane to get a tech career
Over the past few years the students of the Department of Statistical Sciences have also been given access to the path that leads to a SAS certification. Students who pass the exam and obtain a SAS certification get an internationally recognized credential. In September, 2019, this certification program will be enhanced with the addition of the "Machine Learning with SAS Viya" certification. Many students have already applied to enter the certification path because SAS certifications are highly in demand and make talents stand out from their peers, as Professor Di Ciaccio points out. "A former student, who works in Brussels today, confirmed to me that the SAS certification in her CV was the winning pitch during her interview".
STEM disciplines bring students in line with the labor market
With such a high demand of digital skills in the labor market, why is studying STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) degrees not so popular and high school graduates are still shying away from college STEM classes? "Young people shouldn’t get discouraged from having to deal with these disciplines, a lot of students who have studied mainly arts and humanities in high school and have few notions of mathematics and computer science still graduate with flying colors from our department", says Professor Di Ciaccio.
Also, “applications in Statistics are more and more common. A growing number of young people are realizing that STEM studies give them better chances to work and build a career. The key element is motivation: you need to be willing to get involved and learn to think outside the box. Being flexible and open-minded is part of those soft skills that companies truly value. It’s the right mindset in a world that requires lifelong learning throughout our careers".
Software and certifications for universities
SAS Viya for Learners
SAS Viya for Learners is a cloud-based suite that offers free access to AI and Machine Learning software for higher education teachers and students for academic, noncommercial use only. SAS Viya for Learners supports the entire analytics life cycle – from data, to discovery, to deployment of advanced statistical models.
Benefits for Educators
SAS Viya for Learners makes it easy for teachers to incorporate Machine Learning elements into coursework, including the ability to integrate R & Python with SAS, also through Jupyter notebooks. Teachers can use the SAS Teaching Materials,session in SAS Viya for Learners’ website to access everything they need to get familiar and teach with SAS Viya. SAS Viya for Learners also provides support tools like online chat, videos, web tutorials, documentation, communities and technical support.
Are you a professor and you are interested in incorporating SAS Viya for Learners into coursework? You can apply for access to SAS Viya for Learners for you and your students via its dedicated web page. It’s completely free. To support the successful use of SAS Viya for Learners at academic institutions (both for curricular and extracurricular activities) SAS offers Free Professor Workshops. In Italy the first will be in Milan, September 23, 2019.
Benefits for Students
Students learn to explore data, create reports and deploy AI and machine learning models thanks to SAS Viya and its ability to integrate with Open Source software. Students will build valuable expertise to stand out and succeed in the job market. Also, the skills acquired though SAS Viya are a prerequisite to take and pass the exam to become a SAS Certified Specialist in Machine Learning. This certification is an internationally recognized credential.
SAS Young Certified Program (SCYP)
The new initiative called SCYP offers university students access to a web site that supports every single step to get SAS-certified, from studying to taking the exam, completely for free. The exam will take place at the student’s university or in one of the SAS offices.
Depending on their expertise and goals, university students can choose among several certification paths Base Programming Specialist, Advanced Programming, Statistical Business Analyst e Machine Learning Specialist.
The names of the students who have obtained a SAS certification in Italy in the past two years are freely accessible on this page of SAS Italy website. This directory is a great opportunity for the students who have a SAS certification to showcase their skills and get connected with companies partnering with SAS or with SAS customers looking for young talents.
Hear it from the students
I used SAS Viya for Learners for the first time during Professor Di Ciaccio's Data Mining course. I had already used the Enterprise Miner and I found SAS Viya for Learners to be even more flexible in its models, plus it integrates with open source software programs and it offers a large set of options to create outstanding reports in a very simple way.
In Professor Di Ciaccio’s class we were able to see how SAS Viya for Learners is a truly innovative platform, the backbone of analytics. I really appreciated its intuitive graphical user interface and computational capability.
I believe that SAS Viya for Learners offers the right balance between having cutting-edge analytics tools and a simple and intuitive interface; I also used SAS Viya during the SUS5 Hackathon and it proved to be just the right software to help us manage the entire process of data analysis, from data exploration to reporting.
SAS Viya is a very user-friendly platform that offers all the tools you would hope for. Many of them are already integrated so you don’t need to search through any external libraries or software packages.
SUS5 experience held at Bocconi University was exciting and rewarding; many students, including me, had the opportunity to interact with the brand new software of SAS Viya, a platform with great potential that I hope I can continue to use in the future
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