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NCCU School of Business Dives Into Data Analytics

Big data is big news around the Triangle, and North Carolina Central University (NCCU) is riding the wave of data analytics with a pair of partnerships and a new academic offering.

Over past few years, big data has become more than a catchphrase in technology and business; it has become an essential element in many everyday functions. Although big data has recently developed more buzz, it is still a relatively new concept.

Two of the leading companies in data analytics around the world are SAS and SAP, and both have formed partnerships with NCCU.

With corporate offices in North Carolina, SAS analytics software is used by over 80,000 businesses – including 91 of the top 100 companies on the Fortune Global 500 list – as well as government and university operations worldwide.

“NCCU’s School of Business is excited to not only offer the new course offerings but also build great relationships with SAS and SAP,” said Donna Grant, Ph.D., associate professor and chair of NCCU’s Department of Computer Information Systems. “These partnerships are a great addition to ensure our students are exposed to emerging technologies and knowledge, such as big data, while also making them market-ready for lucrative careers.”

NCCU students are especially excited about this innovative approach to education that they believe will increase their opportunities in the workplace.

Through its partnership with SAS, the School of Business will offer a Certificate in Statistical Analysis that was created through SAS’s Global Academic Program to prepare students and professionals for work in data-rich settings. According to payscale.com, the average starting salary for such positions is $78,000.

According to analysis firm Wikibon, the big data industry is expected to grow tremendously in the next few years. The firm’s recent study shows revenue from big data will expand from its current $5 billion mark to more than $50 billion by 2017.

Strategic partnerships with analytics companies such as SAS and SAP is one way the School of Business helps students prepare for successful careers. Forums with industry professionals and thought leaders, as well as sponsorship of student interest groups add to the educational experience.

Data analytics industry leader, Brian Reaves of SAP has met and spoken with students and faculty at the School of Business.

Reaves, senior vice president for SAP, delivered the keynote address in March 2016 at NCCU’s Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina Speaker Series. Reaves is a big data analyst who manages diversity and inclusion strategies for SAP’s Office of the CEO in Palo Alto, Cal., and was co-founder of SAP’s Black Employee Network. He sees big advantages for minorities in data analytics careers.

Reaves worked closely with Donna Covington, dean of Delaware State University’s College of Business to develop an initiative called Project Propel that offers digital enterprise skills training to HBCUs using the state-of-the-art technologies. Under Wanda Lester, Ph.D.’s leadership, the School of Business is has joined the Project Propel initiative.

“With the Project Propel initiative, students will receive skills and working knowledge essential to obtaining great career opportunities,” Grant said. “Along with the students, our faculty and staff are excited about future opportunities that will be presented through Project Propel.”

The SAS-NCCU Joint Certificate will be offered through the School of Business’s decision sciences concentration and will equip students with skills in statistical analysis, data management and SAS programming. Students will complete a major project using a large real data set to ensure firsthand experience in delivering big-data findings.

Four three-credit-hour courses in data analysis and statistics are required for the certificate. These courses also will count as electives for students earning bachelor degrees outside of the School of Business. The certificate paired with a B.S. degree leverages the university’s existing course work with new curriculum. The certificate may be earned along with a bachelor’s or graduate degree, and it will also be available separately through continuing education.

Data analytics skills are increasingly attractive to a wide range of employers, said Ibrahim Salama, Ph.D., a professor in the School of Business.

“This certificate gives students transferrable skills and a valuable competitive advantage for any profession,” Salama said. “With this certification program, students will be able to get almost any job based upon their advanced skills alone. It will open many avenues of career opportunities for students.”

John Medicke, an IBM distinguished engineer who visited NCCU in spring 2016, told students that big data can be useful in many ways, from big-picture forecasting to more targeted decision-making tasks. It may be used to establish company-wide business goals or to defend a specific business decision, Medicke said.

“Data science may be used to understand, to change, to decide, to convince and to impress,” Medicke said. “With access to more data, it’s possible to mine more insight from that data, and that gives you a competitive advantage.”

For companies and organizations that have mastered big data analytics, the sky is the limit, Medicke believes.

“Some make the analogy to oil,” he added. “Strike the right vein and you’ll get wealthy.”

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