MC to offer major in business analytics, minor in analytics

MC to offer major in business analytics, minor in analytics

July 21, 2017

The field of analytics has developed rapidly, and the demand for employees with a unique combination of domain knowledge and a solid foundation in mathematics, statistics and computer science continues to increase dramatically. In response to a growing student interest in this field, Maryville College will offer a new major in business analytics and a new minor in analytics, starting in fall 2017.

Dr. Jeff Bay, chair of the Division of Mathematics & Computer Science and professor of statistics at Maryville College, said the major and minor were created with two groups of students in mind.

“First, students in the Division of Mathematics & Computer Science are often particularly interested in applying their mathematical ability to help solve ‘real-world’ problems. The new major and minor will provide those students with a well-rounded skill set to do such work,” Bay said. “Second, a number of students in other majors, including those in our business program, have the necessary mathematical aptitude to be analysts. The new major and minor will provide the specific training to help those students distinguish themselves from others in their fields.”

Business analytics major fits with liberal arts

The business analytics major at Maryville College requires a minimum of 63 credit hours involving courses in business, statistics, computer science and mathematics. Students completing the major will receive a bachelor of science degree in business analytics. The new major will replace the current computer science/business major at MC.

The multidisciplinary major is administered by the Division of Mathematics & Computer Science in consultation with faculty from the Division of Social Sciences.

“Development of the major was very much a collaborative effort, under the guidance of Dr. Anna Engelsone, between my division and members of our business program, and included input from the business program’s advisory board,” Bay said. “Because many of the specific skills organizations are seeking when hiring analysts come from courses in computer science, statistics, and math, we believed the major fit best in the Division of Mathematics & Computer Science.”

Engelsone, assistant professor of mathematical sciences at MC and coordinator of the major, said there is a shortage of true business analytics professionals in the workforce – and there is a high demand for those who possess the right combination of skills.

“A true business analytics professional is something of a unicorn,” Engelsone explained. “He or she must possess the ability to understand the needs of an organization operating in the real world and all its stakeholders. He or she will have mastered a variety of mathematical and statistical techniques, and will know which technique to use when. He or she should be able to write computer code and confidently use software. But perhaps most important of all, a business analytics professional must work with people across the organization and outside the organization, effectively communicating his or her insights to a variety of audiences.”

A liberal arts college like Maryville College is in a unique position to “nurture future ‘unicorns,’” Engelsone said.

“Combined with our core curriculum, the business analytics major at Maryville offers the right mix of breadth and rigor to help today’s students navigate the complexities of a future world dominated by big data,” she said. “The ability to master new skills, to think deeply about issues, to communicate effectively and with passion are just some of the essential skills provided by a liberal arts education.”

The major also “dovetails nicely with the Maryville College Works (career preparation) program, as both seek to better prepare students to meet the needs of the workplace,” Bay added.

Companies that employ a large number of analytics professionals include giants like Google, Amazon, IBM and Oracle. Additionally, an increasing number of private companies, government entities and nonprofit organizations are forming in-house analytics teams, Engelsone said.

According to a May 2011 report by the McKinsey Global Institute, “there will be a shortage of talent necessary for organizations to take advantage of big data.”

“In most industries, established competitors and new entrants alike will leverage data-driven strategies to innovate, compete, and capture value from deep and up-to-real-time information,” the report said. “… By 2018, the United States alone could face a shortage of 140,000 to 190,000 people with deep analytical skills as well as 1.5 million managers and analysts with the know-how to use the analysis of big data to make effective decisions.”

Awareness of the increasing prominence of this field is evidenced by the increase in the number of MC applicants declaring an interest in both business and mathematics or computer science, as well as the number of current MC students who have expressed interest in Senior Study topics related to business analytics, Engelsone said. Additionally, a number of recent Maryville College graduates have pursued master’s degrees in business analytics.

“Interestingly, over the past four years we’ve sent six students on to the business analytics master’s program at the University of Tennessee, and it’s a near equal split of students from within and outside of the Division of Mathematics and Computer Science,” Bay added. 

New minor in analytics complements any major

The minor in analytics requires 19 credit hours, all drawn from the Division of Mathematics and Computer Science.

“Today’s employers recognize the value of a liberal arts education and, whatever their major, liberal arts students enter many different fields upon graduation,” said Engelsone, who is also the coordinator of the minor. “And in many fields, the demand for analytical skills is sharply on the rise. This makes a minor in analytics, with its combination of mathematics, statistics and computer science, a good complement to any major. These highly marketable skills will help distinguish a graduate in a pool of applicants and signal his or her ability to do rigorous analytical work to a potential employer or graduate school.” 

Engelsone has background in analytics

Engelsone, who graduated from North Carolina State University with a Ph.D. in operations research, has over 10 years of experience in the private sector. As a senior operations researcher at JDA, she designed software used by many major retailers and manufacturers to predict consumer demand and optimize prices. Engelsone has co-authored seven papers and presented her work at a number of national and international conferences.

Engelsone joined the Maryville College faculty in 2016 with the goal of creating and coordinating a business analytics program. In addition to teaching courses in statistics and computer science, she hopes to leverage her industry experience into up-to-date career advice, internships and senior studies for MC students, Engelsone said.

By Chloe Kennedy, Assistant Director of Communications

Maryville College is ideally situated in Maryville, Tenn., between the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Knoxville, the state's third largest city. Founded in 1819, it is the 12th oldest institution of higher learning in the South and maintains an affiliation with the Presbyterian Church (USA). Known for offering its students a rigorous and highly personal experience that includes an undergraduate research requirement, Maryville College is a nationally ranked institution of higher learning that successfully joins the liberal arts and professional preparation. Total enrollment for the Fall 2018 semester is 1,154.