Grant helps FPU School of Business bring data analytics to students

Data analytics—the science of drawing insights from raw information sources—touches every facet of business, and thanks to $30,000 in grants technology data analytics will touch every facet of the education students receive in the Fresno Pacific University School of Business.

Funds from the Hamilton Roddis Foundation, a Wisconsin-based family foundation established in the 1950s by businessman Hamilton Roddis, will be used to create a virtual computer lab, web-based software students may access from their own devices or those FPU computer labs. A new computer lab with no need for additional rooms, desks, chairs or…computers is a boon for all five university campuses: Merced, North Fresno, Southeast Fresno, Visalia and Bakersfield.

Meeting in the office of School of Business Dean Katie Fleener, Ph.D., after the Christmas break, business faculty Catherine Peck, Andrew Shinn and Ranjan George brimmed with ideas on how to use data analytics to not only improve business education at FPU, but also improve the experience of education for students. Peck all but rubbed her hands together in glee around the conference table. “This is going to be fun,” she said.

The first step is to get institutional software licenses for data analytics, financial modeling, marketing and other businesses into the hands of students. “Technology is going more cloud-based, so its software and training we need more than hardware. These kinds of software are very expensive, even with the educational discount,” said Peck, M.S., assistant professor of accounting.

Data analytics is not the next thing in business—it’s the current big thing. FPU’s grant proposal, written by George, Ph.D., associate professor of business, states: “A 2017 Report by IBM, Business Higher Education Forum (BHEF) and Burning Glass Technologies identified that workforce needs have shifted rapidly, and that demand has increased for a new breed of professionals skilled in data, analytics, machine learning, and artificial intelligence. The report projects that by 2020 the number of positions, for data and analytics talent in the United States will increase to 2,720,000 openings.” (The quoted report is Miller, S., and Hughes, D., [2017] The Quant Crunch: How the demand for data science skills is disrupting the job market, Burning Glass Technologies.)

Closer to home, Peck tells the story of an FPU student who in a job interview was able to tell the hiring committee she had knowledge of data analytics. “They leaned forward and said, ‘Tell us about that.’ They didn’t want to hear about anything else,” Peck said with a laugh.

“It’s going to impact every one of our majors. It’s going to give us the opportunity to give students hands-on experience with the technology they’ll encounter in the workplace,” said Shinn, MBA, instructor of business.

The applications of data analytics in marketing, Shinn’s area, are as close as a Facebook page. It doesn’t take long for marketers counting “likes” on social media to predict an individual’s buying habits better than he or she can. “That kind of information is a gold mine for marketing,” he said.

That information yields riches for management, finance, marketing, economics and accounting across agriculture, manufacturing and service industries as well. “This is going to be the highest demand in business,” George said.

As critical as data analytics is to support current programs, this lab could be the beginning of a new major or minor. “We can make a humble start,” George said.