A Big Head Start on Big Data Studies

When he made the decision to study Business Intelligence and Analytics, Jorge Madrazo wanted more than a lot of theory coming from a textbook.

Madrazo, who’s spent nearly a decade at Morgan Stanley, wanted a program rooted in the real world, with training on the latest software from professors who have close ties to industry. 

He found it at the Howe School.

“It’s as if our work was sponsoring an extra seminar. It’s in the perfect space,” he said. 

Madrazo works in the development and management of anti-money-laundering applications, and as the finance industry puts an even greater focus on fraud detection, “we have to have a rational, statistical basis of detecting potential fraud ... it all plays right into understanding analytics.”

That’s where the BI&A master’s program at Stevens comes in. 

“There’s a real practical emphasis at Stevens,” he said. “Professors introduce different tools into the classroom that you encounter regularly on the job.” 

That real-world focus was critical to the program’s architects fro, said Dr. Christopher Asakiewicz, BI&A program director.

“We tried to create something that closely considered the demands being placed on businesses that realize the importance of using Big Data to make effective decisions,” he said. “We look to build not just the competency — what you need to know — around analytics, but the skills in order to do analytics effectively.” 

A mix of business, software skills

That sets this program apart, said Hao Han, who has a degree from Beijing University of Posts and Telecommunications and is in his third semester at Stevens.

“The BI&A program provides us with what we need for the future,” said Han, an aspiring data scientist. “On the skills side, we learn programming and analytics techniques, on the business side, we get the knowledge of business — financial decision-making, risk management.”

Next month, Han will start an internship with AppCard, which recommends offers from favorite retailers and pushes rewards to your phone. During the interview, the company said they were having trouble with the system it uses to provide recommendations. 

“I told them in one of my courses, we learned recommender systems using item-based techniques. They were pretty interested,” Han said. “They said, ‘We have this problem, and we right now need someone who knows this and can fix this’ — so I told them how to fix it.”

The Howe BI&A leverages the state-of-the-art Hanlon Financial Systems Lab to train students on such cutting-edge software, like Hadoop, SAS, R and Python. 

“The software taught at Stevens is central to the industry I’m interested in,” said Enrique Lance, a senior BI&A student who’s pursuing a career in finance. “Knowing it gives you an edge over other people who might not know how to interact with these programs. That gives you an advantage over studying at other universities.”

Howe’s BI&A program leverages additional real-world experience by drawing on a board of advisers featuring representation across industries, from media and manufacturing to retail and life sciences. 

Rochelle Lostumbo, a business unit executive with IBM Software Solutions and a board member, said faculty are quick to turn suggestions from board members into curriculum requirements.

“Companies are really looking for people who can use analytics to interpret the data, but they also need business acumen,” she said. “And in this program, they get both.”

BI&A fast facts

When: The program was created in December 2012. 

Why: A McKinsey Global Institute study found the U.S. will need 1.5 million managers and analysts able to use Big Data to make decisions. Only a handful of universities have BI&A programs.

Updates: The program has evolved to better meet industry demands. A management track is now available; classes have been added in areas like supply chain, social media and stream analytics; and a Big Data seminar series has been created.