This fall, The School of Business launched its Master in Applied Data Science for Business (MSADSB) to meet the increasing need for leaders of digital transformation. The program is designed to bridge the knowledge gap between data science and business strategy including understanding customer needs and how to foster organizational change. The curriculum is imbued with PSU’s characteristic commitment to experiential learning, equity and accessibility.
Ketan Sampat, academic director for the MSADSB, explained the need for the program:
Data has become pervasive in business. It has become essential to running virtually every function of a company. Whether finance, HR, digital marketing, operations or manufacturing, data spans all functions and all types of business including government and nonprofit sectors.
Employer demand for data analytics skills has been on the rise, and according to Purdue University, that boom is likely to continue. For years, Cliff Allen, dean of The School of Business, has been approached by industry leaders lamenting a lack of skilled analytics professionals. In response, Allen championed analytics competencies for business students, including analytics courses for all undergraduate students, and graduate certificates in both Blockchain and Business Intelligence & Analytics (BIA).
Recently a new talent gap has emerged in the workforce: professionals with technical knowledge who have core competencies in leadership and business. The MSADSB is a carefully-crafted degree expressly designed to upskill and prepare working professionals to be leaders of digital transformation, providing a prestigious network of talent from which regional and global businesses can recruit.
Program structure and participants
The MSADSB program is offered fully online, one year full time or two years part time. Students take a core curriculum focused on digital transformation, including innovation processes, strategy, ethics and privacy, cybersecurity, leading change, managerial accounting and special topics courses that explore data science in business application. Candidates then choose between three specialized certificates: Business Blockchain, BIA or Human Resource Analytics, and then round out their learning with elective courses.
The MSADSB degree was developed with extensive input from industry partners. Mining supply company Weir ESCO has sponsored five of their outstanding employees to pursue the degree for career development. Weir ESCO VP of Global Sales Ermanno Simonutti was already thinking seriously about how to upskill employees in digital transformation, so the company was well-positioned to fast-track five employees into the MSADSB only weeks before its launch. Other prominent companies see the value of the MSADSB and have offered important input as to its evolution including Nike, Autodesk, Bank of America, Intel, Daimler, Port of Portland and The Standard.
The centerpiece of the MSADSB is a comprehensive project where candidates work intensively on a digital transformation-related business problem of their choice. In the Fall Term, the candidates assess market needs by engaging with customers through interviews and do initial prototyping. During Winter Term, they examine the privacy, ethics and cybersecurity considerations of their project. Finally, in the Spring Term, they analyze their personal leadership styles and learn about change management in organizations. The Weir ESCO employees are collaborating on a cross-functional company initiative, directly leveraging their graduate business education in their work.
Ryan Carpenter works in data and digital transformation in manufacturing at Weir ESCO. He was inspired to join the first MSADSB cohort because he felt he wanted to hone his ability to research solutions. In completing his degree, Carpenter hopes to expand on his ability to lead teams to “use data to tell stories.”
Rachel Hanks, another MSADSB candidate at Weir ESCO, echoes Carpenter’s sentiments. She works in sales analytics with a background in finance. She was excited about the opportunity to get a specialized graduate business degree because of digital transformation’s burgeoning role in her work function. “I am excited to figure out how to make strategic decisions from the data I have available,” she says. Hanks feels Weir ESCO, which is a company with a long legacy in a more traditional field, can particularly benefit from this “wave of the future.”
Since its initial proposal, the MSADSB was designed with equity and accessibility in mind. PSU’s Associate Dean of Graduate Business Programs Melissa Appleyard says that while it “helps if you have a statistics past, or a background in engineering or programming, it is not a prerequisite. We want to ensure there is equal access for people who are minoritized in STEM,” she continues, “including women and BIPOC professionals.” She emphasizes that the core content is “rigorous but very accessible no matter what your background is.” The certificates are more technical, so The School of Business has prepared free primers to help students get up to speed.
“We feel it’s very important to demystify new technologies and new techniques, and to make sure they are accessible to a wide range of people,” Appleyard explains. “The student services and support built into the MSADSB reflect that mission.”
This first cohort of 28 students is only the beginning for meeting the demand of professionals and employers. The School of Business is celebrating the MSADSB’s early success, especially considering the final approvals and public announcement for the MSADSB came only a few weeks prior to the Fall Term.
“People vote with their feet,” Allen says. “When you consider how many people enrolled, it really validates the program.”
Karen Lowe is a 2020 graduate of The Portland MBA. She manages marketing and strategic partnerships for The Give Bin and writes regularly for Portland State’s Graduate Business Blog.