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Companies Partner with Business Analytics Students to Solve Real Problems with Data

Monday, December 12, 2016

This year, 16 client companies challenged 81 MS in Business Analytics (MSBA) students to draw actionable insights from real data. The companies gave 10-minute pitches describing their projects and answered questions. These experiential learning projects are part of the MSBA curriculum.

Throughout spring semester, the Carlson Analytics Lab student teams will analyze the data and develop business recommendations. The projects are student-led, beginning to end.

Students will use data to answer questions like:

  • how Polaris can better align dealer supply and demand for off-road vehicles
  • how Land O’ Lakes’ can improve research plots to help farmers grow food sustainably
  • how Carlson Wagonlit Travel can stay ahead of rapid changes in the travel industry
  • how Regis can predict employee turnover and retain the best stylists
  • how 3M analysts can give executives a more holistic view of the company’s finances

The teams will present their findings, recommendations, and solutions to the client at the end of the semester.

Digging into (real) messy data

The client companies are confident the students’ work will reveal hidden business opportunities.

“(MS in Business Analytics students) have the advanced data analysis skills, and they know how to apply that in the business world,” says Melissa Bogard, manager of global supplier revenue management at Carlson Wagonlit Travel.

Amanda Neely, Land O' Lakes agriculture technology operations lead, explains how these projects give students a valuable glimpse into data analytics in the business world. Namely, that shaping messy data to tell a clear story is not always straightforward. “Even the simplest data sets are not structured in the way they need to be to answer the big question. We need to get better at understanding how we can work with disparate data sets to solve a problem.”

Recruiting tomorrow’s analytics leaders

The Carlson Analytics Lab is also a pathway for students to connect with employers.

Case in point: MSBA alum Christopher Erickson joined Regis Corporation after completing a project in partnership with the company as a student. This year, he’s pitching a project to the next wave of MSBA students.

“Every day, I use my technical skills that I gained,” says Erickson. “I love the opportunity to dig into a mass of information and find real, supportable answers to important questions.”

Many of this year’s client companies hope to recruit standout students leading these projects.

“We want to establish a pipeline of talent,” says Jason Rogowski, director of enterprise data sciences at Polaris.  “We're going to grow rapidly over the next calendar year, and there's going to be opportunities across the entire company for people who solve business problems using data.”

Dozens of companies, including Land O’ Lakes, look to the Carlson School for forward-looking leaders.

“We need people who are innovative, open, excited, eager, and skilled in analytics and in data,” says Neely. “But more than that, we need people who are ready to embrace a challenge and evolve rapidly.”