Aug 31 2017
Data Analytics

Southern Connecticut State University Provides Hands-On Data Experience

The college uses IBM Watson Analytics to prepare students for future tech careers.

Like a lot of other universities, Southern Connecticut State University employs data analytics to identify red flags and further student achievement. Through a partnership with IBM Watson Analytics, the university follows students’ data from their first day until they graduate, helping advisors intervene when necessary. But SCSU also uses data to help students in other ways — namely, real-life tech experiences.

Michael Ben-Avie, the director of the Office of Assessment and Planning, employs a handful of students that use Watson Analytics to discover new data patterns. SCSU also created a unique internship program for business and computer science students. They use Watson Analytics and work with local businesses to interpret data for decision-making.

The internship offers students real-life experience with data and, Ben-Avie says, businesses are happy to host the future data scientists.

“We changed the dynamic. Now the interns bring expertise and experience to the internship that a business doesn’t have on its own,” he says.

As the power of data analytics continues to emerge, programs like this one will be in high demand.

“The No. 1 job in America today didn’t even exist as a category four years ago, and that’s data scientist,” he says.

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Watson Analytics Helps SCSU Students Succeed with Data

Part of the reason that this partnership between SCSU and IBM has flourished is the ease with which students can pick up data analysis.

When working with other predictive analytics tools, Ben-Avie says it usually takes a semester to teach statistical tests and another semester to teach students to write syntax and line code. By using Watson Analytics, it takes three weeks for students to learn the software well enough to help analyze in the office.

“I think the major thing these students gain from the experience is confidence in analyzing data,” says Ben-Avie. “They haven’t analyzed data in the past. They wouldn’t even know how to approach an Excel sheet.”

Randy Messina, a global sales transformation leader for IBM who worked with SCSU, says Watson Analytics is so effective with universities — 650 higher ed institutions worldwide have deployed it — because it is cloud-based and scalable based on the needs of each classroom or department.

IBM also understands the importance of professional development with any new tech tool. Messina says the company offers support to the educators first and foremost.

“The first thing we need to do is train the trainer,” he says. “We make them a sample curriculum, a sample syllabus, a workbook. We have an entire YouTube channel just for reference. We started creating all of this enabling material with the idea that this is pretty easy to learn.”

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