In addition to graduating its 500th student from the residential and online programs combined, students excelled at delivering value to Capstone partners
Since the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia approved the residential Master of Science in Business Analytics (MSBA) degree at William & Mary’s Raymond A. Mason School of Business in September 2016, the program has grown from an inaugural cohort of 46 students to a Tribe of hundreds of business analytics and data science professionals across every industry in business.
The Mason School’s commitment to giving students the advanced skills necessary to help businesses use big data to gain a competitive advantage prompted growth into the online space to serve working professionals. Both the residential and online MSBA programs provide comprehensive coverage of analytic methodologies with a focus on four skill areas: business acumen, applied mathematics, computing technologies, and communicating with impact.
Both programs have received national recognition, most notably, the online MSBA was ranked #18 by U.S. News & World Report. The diversity within both the online and residential cohorts as well as among the full-time faculty who teach in both programs are reflective of the shifting demographics in the data analytics field. Nearly a third of enrolled MSBA students identify as persons of color and close to half of enrolled students are female.
The business analytics faculty also lead in gender diversity, boasting five full-time female faculty members, and for the first time last year, two female professors simultaneously instructed both courses in machine learning.
The class of 2022 celebrated a particularly momentous milestone as the 500th recipient of an MSBA degree was honored during the graduate business commencement ceremony on Saturday, May 21st.
“To have 500 students by our sixth year is remarkable. It is a testament to the employers’ needs, the vision of Professor Jim Bradley who served as the inaugural Faculty Director, and the commitment of the Business Analytics Advisory Board to ensure our curriculum is market-driven,” said Joe Wilck, Clinical Professor and Faculty Director of the Business Analytics Programs. “The MSBA program is the largest STEM graduate program at William & Mary. It is also one of the largest in the country, and one of the few with over 500 graduates.”
Though commencement was certainly a joyous and celebratory occasion, students from both the residential and online MSBA programs participated in a penultimate event – the program’s Capstone – which provided them applicable, real-world experience working as a consultant that they can translate into any of the number of industries and job functions students will pursue following graduation.
“The capstone is the culminating experience of the MSBA,” said Wilck. “In sourcing projects, we are looking for four things: a well-defined business problem or business challenge, available data, an engaged client, and a need for a data product such as data visualization, a predictive model, a simulation, or an app. Most of our capstone projects come to us from alumni and board member organizations.”
A Client-Centric Capstone Experience
This year’s capstone clients represented the largest and most diverse group since the residential MSBA program launched in 2016.
Students representing both program formats partnered with The St. James, a sports, wellness, and entertainment complex co-founded by William & Mary alumni and entrepreneurs Kendrick Ashton ‘98 and Craig Dixon ’97. The capstone project served a dual purpose as the presentations were featured during the Mason School’s Data Feast Case Competition, where student teams are judged not only on their actual findings and technical summaries of real-world experiences, but on their presentation skills and business acumen.
“The coding skills and analytics emphasis of the program are foundational to completing the MSBA. However, for me, the capstone’s value was beyond the requirements to build models or generate code,” said Cait Smith, OMSBA ‘22. “Throughout the capstone, I learned to use analytics as part of a holistic answer to a business problem. Creating a bridge between analytics and an understandable answer for the client is a skill increasingly in demand across workforce. Having one of those skills is valuable; having both is invaluable. The MSBA program taught me both of those skills and I am already using them to great effect.”
Residential MSBA students were assigned to one of nine capstone projects that represented the for-profit, non-profit, and government industries. As with The St. James, many of the residential MSBA capstone clients are connected to William & Mary through the alumni network and the Mason School’s corporate partnership program.
Teams working with Celonis solved a business problem using Process Mining. William & Mary is considered a “Center of Excellence” by Celonis and provides data annually for a capstone project tailored to that specific area of business analytics during each residential cohort.
“My interactions with Mason Students have been overwhelmingly positive. The MSBA students bring a toolkit and curious attitude,” said Andrew Lieberman, MSBA ’18 and Ecosystem Consulting Manager at Celonis. “I am admittedly extremely demanding on the capstone, direct with my feedback, and ambitious with my asks. They show constant improvement at every stage and put together a product I was proud, as an alum and employee of Celonis, to show to both IBM and Celonis executives. They proved again this year why they are the top Process Mining program in North America.”
Other residential capstone partners included the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT), specifically the Jamestown/Scotland Ferry; Blue Ridge Medical Center; Education Elements; Estes Express; NVR Homes; MyGolfSpy; and Amyris.
The Blue Ridge Medical Center is a 501(c)3 non-profit Federally Qualified Health Center and Level III Patient-Centered Medical Home serving rural areas in the western, blue ridge area of Virginia. Student consultants used data wrangling, data visualization, and modeling from various data sources to demonstrate ways to reduce the patient no-show rate. Students had routine interaction with the client and were required to use tools such as Tableau, Alteryx, Python and R. The final report, presentation, and modeling artifacts were reviewed by a panel of faculty and client personnel.
“It was a great experience working with Blue Ridge Medical Center,” said Zach Kinchloe MSBA ‘22. “The ability to leverage newly acquired skills to solve real world problems was a great way to end a rigorous course of study. Helping to solve an analytics problem centered around providing care to those in need was very rewarding.”
The Estes Express Lines project included data wrangling, data visualization, and modeling from various data sources to aid in improving their bidding process. The teams worked with Estes leaders including Webb Estes '06, MAcc '07 and Rusty Hopkins and presented to a group of Estes executives including Rob Estes, Jr. ‘74.
“Estes Freight Lines is more than just moving freight with trucks and in working with the students, they were able to see immediate insights from the data through visualizations and models,” said Hopkins.
“We wanted to give them a good challenge and also give them an opportunity to grow and learn,” said Estes. “This is an awesome partnership. The students always asked good questions, and allowed for imaginative and creative processes to flow within a professional framework. William & Mary produces the highest caliber of students who are able to walk into a boardroom with senior leadership, speak to the industry leaders about the data, and allow the organization to create business-changing decisions.”
Amyris, a synthetic biotechnology and renewable chemical company, collaborated with two teams. The students used actual Amyris customer data to provide insights that will power marketing and operational decisions to drive growth in 2022. Specifically, students were tasked with identifying the “best customers” using analytical techniques of their choice.
“To quote Mason School Dean Larry Pulley, we want to “bring business back into the business school,” and the capstones for the MSBA programs are doing just that,” said Wilck. “Each of our 500-plus graduates has had that experience to culminate their degree program since the program’s inception and that opportunity will continue to be available to future students.”