LATROBE, PA – Beginning this fall, Saint Vincent College’s Herbert W. Boyer School of Natural Sciences, Mathematics and Computing and its Alex G. McKenna School of Business, Economics and Government are teaming up to offer academic majors in data science and business data analytics, which will aim to prepare students for successful employment in one of the fastest growing job sectors in the U.S.
Students in the data science major will develop skills from the fields of computer science, applied math and statistics to extract insights from data and develop models to analyze data. Business data analytics students will develop skills in business and statistics to make data-driven decisions, with an emphasis on identifying trends and creating clear and informative visual presentation of data.
The two new programs will be truly interdisciplinary in nature, with a number of overlapping courses in data science and analytics. Students will bridge a variety of disciplines, including mathematics, statistics, computer science, economics, bioinformatics and public health. Several courses will require projects in which students from both majors work together.
With scores of job opportunities spanning multiple industries, the business analytics and data fields are truly burgeoning, a fact to which SVC grad Andrew Baker can attest.
Shortly after graduating from Saint Vincent College in 2014 with a B.S. in bioinformatics, Baker was hired at Whiting-Turner Consulting, a national corporation based in Baltimore, Maryland, that specializes in construction management, general contracting and integrated project deliver. He has held a variety of role since his hiring, and over his six-year tenure, Baker has gained first-hand experience in the proliferation of data science and analytics. He recently discussed his career path and talked about how his experience at Saint Vincent College helped to shape his career.
What led you to Saint Vincent College?
“I was drawn to and ultimately attended Saint Vincent College for a number of reasons. I would say the biggest factor was the combination of the bioinformatics major that was offered at the time and Saint Vincent being a small, Catholic college near the east coast.”
As you were beginning college, where did you envision yourself in terms of a career?
“At the time, I assumed that I’d be working in a lab in a biotech company and gradually working my way up as my career progressed. While part of this is still true, the nature of the work that I am currently doing is the furthest thing imaginable from where I thought I would be when I first enrolled at Saint Vincent.”
Can you briefly describe the roles/positions you have held since graduating? What led you to your current position?
“I have worked for Whiting-Turner since a few weeks after graduation. When I started, my role was helping to support a new ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) system that we were in the process of implementing and developing some custom reporting that involved basic database object creation and querying skills. This gradually evolved into my current position of application engineer, where I specifically work on corporate level analytics. I split my time evenly between working with people and machines, analyzing problems and producing technical solutions that help our people get better insight into what is going on in the business and help them make better decisions. Oftentimes, this involved the creation of new database objects and a level of coding and technical analysis.
“Currently, my day-to-day responsibilities could be summed up by saying that I am functioning as a business analyst, business intelligence developer and data architect all somewhat simultaneously. Without being extremely technical about my exact responsibilities, I take inefficient or broken business processes and improve them with the application of data analytics and technology.”
How are data science and business data analytics part of the work you are currently doing?
“We are a general contractor. On first glance, most people wouldn’t think that someone with a background in data science and analytics would be successful here. But, like all business in the 21st century, we have data, whether it’s financials, project management metrics or data about our clients and/or current pursuits. While some of these are unique to construction, I believe it helps illustrate that every company has data and someone with a good foundation in data science and analytics could fit in just about anywhere that is open to the idea of trying to make their business better by utilizing data and analytics.
“They are a huge part of what I am doing, from analyzing data by using a tool like Alteryx, to overseeing our enterprise data warehouse on the more technical side, or meeting with stakeholders in our business and understanding what they would like to see from an analytics perspective.”
What types of skills are necessary for a career in data science/business analytics?
“I would say that there are some obvious technical skills needed for a career in these areas and they continue to evolve. SQL, R and Python programming languages follow data analytics around like a shadow. Beyond those technical skills, I would say that having an engineer’s mindset and strong problem-solving skills are necessary to be successful.”
If one were considering majoring in business analytics or data science, what advice would you give to them?
“I would pitch two aspects. First, you can have a huge impact on your business at a very young age while you are still relatively new with the company. At most companies where technology is not their primary operation, not everyone at a management level always understands the power of data analytics. Someone who does can quickly make quite a name for him or herself while they are young. Second, the earning potential is very high. Starting ‘tech’ salaries are generally very good due to the requisite skills and abilities. If you can bridge the gap between working with people and machines, your earning potential is limited only by your work ethic and willingness to problem solve.”
How did Saint Vincent College prepare you to ultimately get to the point where you are now?
“Saint Vincent College prepared me extremely well for my position, not only through some of the technical coursework or amazing professors, like Dr. Stephen Jodis, but also the liberal arts education that Saint Vincent prides itself on helped make me a more well-rounded person and prepared me for some of the challenges I face daily. When it came to bioinformatics, I ultimately was more comfortable with and drawn to the technology and informatics aspect than the biological science aspects and chose to pursue a career working with data. Whiting-Turner's business is construction, so I was out of the loop when I started, as the only experience I had with construction was as a laborer when I was younger. But I found myself falling back on the knowledge that I had picked up in many of the classes I had taken at Saint Vincent, and felt like I finally understood why a liberal arts education is so important.”
Learn more about the new data science major at https://www.stvincent.edu/academics/undergraduate-programs/programs/data-science, while more information on the business analytics program can be found online at https://www.stvincent.edu/academics/undergraduate-programs/programs/business-data-analytics.
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