When a group of professors in statistics, marketing and information technology at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee gathered in the fall of 2011, the purpose of their task force was less about discussing the feasibility of creating a graduate certificate in business analytics and more about finally starting the process toward a defined program.
“We knew this was doable because we have the resources and faculty,” said Layth Alwan, a faculty member at the school who teaches the certificate’s required gateway course, Analytical Models for Managers.
Alwan explained that the composition of the school was already highly focused in the areas of statistics and quantum reasoning, with specialized faculty and access to leading data software, so the transition to a certificate program was a natural one.
They also knew the need was there. The task force looked at several worldwide surveys, by Gartner and IBM, which revealed that data analytics is the top priority among CFOs, and other surveys showed data analysis a high priority.
The task force’s interest in building a program was validated. “We decided in the end to position ourselves to try to deliver an analytics product,” said Alwan, explaining that the program builds on the faculty’s expertise in information technology management, marketing and statistics.
The program, which officially started the 2013 spring semester, is fully online, which means educators can reach students outside the school’s geographical base. Another property of the certificate program is its broad subject matter, from statistical and predictive modeling to business intelligence and reporting, and data and text mining to web analytics and marketing analytics.
The faculty members of the six courses operate cross-functionally. Alwan teaches the gateway course required of everyone in the program. Students must then choose four of the remaining five courses.
No other requirements are necessary, but Alwan noted that courses do include group data projects that incorporate a variety of popular software programs and analytics and data mining tools, including Python, SAS, IBM SPSS, and Excel. “We want the students to swim in data,” he said. “It’s a good variety of software exposure.”
All the courses now part of the program were previously in existence at the university, but were tailored for the online certificate program, Alwan explained. This past spring, nearly half of the 20 students enrolled in his class were part of the certificate program.
“We are expecting at least 10 coming into my class for the fall,” he added, explaining that students range from complementing their masters, to the MBA crowd to industry people who want to increase their skills.
Jennifer Ehmcke is one such student. With an undergraduate degree in computer information systems and an MBA, Ehmcke was working for a recruiter and unsure of her next step. She began poking around on career sites and found many of the jobs were in analysis. With her 11-year background as a computer programmer and software engineer, Ehmcke decided to take a look at the newly-established graduate certificate at UWM.
“I had already taken the first class [taught by Alwan] and really enjoyed it, said Ehmcke, 38, a Milwaukee native. She enrolled this past semester and since she had already taken a number of the classes, she is set to finish in December.
“Big data isn’t going away… it was a good direction for me,” she said, adding that although she was a little nervous at first about the online structure, she has really enjoyed it. “There are videos of the lectures, so if I didn’t understand I could go back… in class you have to raise your hand and ask [the professor] to repeat.”
Ehmcke also already has a job lined up in June in project management and business analytics. “I will be able to apply stuff that I am learning now,” she said, explaining that she got the job through the university’s career services.
Alwan said he hopes to expand the certificate program, but for now, the school is looking at how the program will serve current and upcoming students.
“We want these people to be comfortable and appreciate data,” said Alwan, adding that the end result will be students getting jobs at companies where they can directly assist in making good business decisions.
• Program founded in 2012; online only
• Cost: each course, $2,500; entire program, $12,500
• Curriculum is 15 credits (five three-credit classes), including one required course. Courses in the curriculum include: Analytical Models for Managers (required), Business Forecasting Methods, Web Mining and Analytics, Marketing Analytics, Database Marketing, Business Intelligence Technologies & Solutions
• A maximum of 6 credits from the Certificate in Business Analytics may also count toward other graduate degrees at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee
• Students must complete all certificate courses within 3 years of initial enrollment in the certificate program