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Set to begin this fall, Texas A&M University's new master's of science in analytics program will deliver a competitive advantage to both employees and industry by capitalizing on worldwide demand for highly skilled data scientists with the ability to parse and prioritize an increasingly massive amount of digital information dominating fields from business to health care.

COLLEGE STATION --

An innovative new Texas A&M University program will position students to navigate the recent explosion of "big data" in the business world.

Texas A&M's newest graduate degree, a master's of science in analytics, will be offered beginning this fall by the Department of Statistics in partnership with Mays Business School. The program received approval in June from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.

"Business analytics brings meaning to your data," said Myra Gonzalez, director of the master's in analytics program. "You have all this data, but what does it mean? Can you analyze it? Can you effectively communicate it to the people who need it when they need it? There is an emerging need for people with these skills, and we are helping to meet it."

According to a 2011 report by global management and consulting firm McKinsey & Company, the U.S. faces a shortage of between 140,000 and 190,000 people with the deep analytical skills necessary to make sense of big data -- loosely defined as data sets whose size puts them beyond the capability of typical database software tools to capture and analyze. It's a shortfall that Gonzalez says impacts virtually every field from retail to healthcare and increasingly plays a larger role in a globally connected, technology reliant world with applications ranging from the autocorrect feature on smartphones to programs that decipher nationwide flu patterns.

Universities are addressing that need with new programs sprouting in recent years. In addition to Texas A&M, New York University, Columbia University and the University of Texas at Austin are starting analytics programs in the fall. Texas A&M's program, however, is distinct because it is part-time, making it convenient for working professionals. Students will take classes Tuesday and Thursday evenings either at Mays Business School's educational facility at CITYCENTRE in Houston or live and online as a camera set up in the classroom beams video to anywhere in North America.

"The IT revolution means that organizations and companies are able to capture mountains of data -- they're not just looking at samples anymore, but at the whole shooting match," said Simon J. Sheather, professor and head of the Texas A&M Department of Statistics. "This is a true partnership between two highly ranked groups on campus to meet an important business need."

Students in the program will have individual quantitative analysis projects specific to their employers, giving them real-world skills. Gonzalez said the department also is in the process of collecting large data sets from companies and other institutions to be used for these student projects as well as general classroom scenarios. The companies will propose questions they want answered, and the data sets would be assigned to a team of graduate students and a faculty member, Sheather said. The companies get what's akin to free consulting services in exchange for allowing their data sets to be used in the classroom by Texas A&M.

As part of that effort, the PGA TOUR offered Texas A&M access to a trove of highly structured and clean data as part of its ShotLink Intelligence program -- every shot taken in tour events last year, including where the ball started and ended up after each swing. Several questions can be analyzed, Sheather said. For instance, on a par-5 course, did those who went for the green in their second shot do better as a group than those who didn't? What are the characteristics of playing well versus not playing well? What does the data say about those who make the cut and those who don't?

"This is an example of big data," Sheather said. "Studies have shown, and we know from experience, that students do best when they have realistic examples. So we're working hard on getting realistic case studies. We want to give our students the tools and techniques to analyze the data."

Gonzalez said the university has been actively holding events across the state and in the corporate world to help recruit the first class of 20 students for the fall. The Department of Statistics, which is housed within the College of Science, and Mays Business School -- both highly ranked nationally -- will pool together existing faculty resources for the program. Currently there are no plans to hire new faculty.

The fledgling program has received a boost from Texas A&M former student Roland H. Acra, who earned a master's degree in statistics in 1986 and recently created an endowment through the Texas A&M Foundation to establish the Roland H. Acra '86 Master of Science in Analytics Award. Funds from the endowment will be used to provide an annual award each May for the student or students who produced the most outstanding master's project in analytics during the previous academic year.

The analytics program also will benefit from a significant donation from SAS, a leader in business analytics software and services as well as the largest independent vendor in the business intelligence market. The North Carolina-based company has more than three decades of experience working with education institutions, and partners with universities around the world to create degree and joint certificate programs in analytics and related disciplines. SAS, which with $2.7 billion in sales was ranked No. 167 on the most recent Forbes list of America's largest private companies, selected Texas A&M for the gift for many factors, including its growing reputation as a national model for distance learning.

"SAS is committed to creating a workforce with the talent to compete globally, and Texas A&M is a perfect partner in this effort," said SAS CEO James. H. Goodnight. "This analytics option reflects Texas A&M's reputation as a leader in producing graduates with advanced skills to meet today's new business challenges."

For more information about the program, visit http://analytics.stat.tamu.edu/.

To learn more about the Texas A&M Department of Statistics, visit http://www.stat.tamu.edu/.

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About the PGA TOUR ShotLink Intelligence Program Powered by CDW: In 2005, the PGA TOUR established a formal process for professors and students (primarily at the graduate level) from academic institutions to gain not-for-profit access to the ShotLink System data for experimentation. The data set is attractive because it is clean, structured, of significant sample size and in the uniquely appealing category of professional sports and entertainment. The program has grown substantially and since has become known as ShotLink Intelligence Powered by CDW. The PGA TOUR's ShotLink system collects three-dimensional data on every shot in real time using laser imaging and mobile data collection technology.

About SAS: SAS is the leader in business analytics software and services as well as the largest independent vendor in the business intelligence market. Through innovative solutions delivered within an integrated framework, SAS helps customers at more than 50,000 sites improve performance and deliver value by making better decisions faster. Since 1976 SAS has been giving customers around the world THE POWER TO KNOW®.

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Contact: Vimal Patel, (979) 845-7246 or vpatel@science.tamu.edu or Myra Gonzalez, (979) 845-6855 or myra-g@tamu.edu

Patel Vimal

  • (Credit: iStock.)

  • Analysis In Action

    Participants in a recent panel on big data held on the Texas A&M campus interact with Department of Statistics personnel.

  • CITYCENTRE Convenience

    Program content will be delivered by Texas A&M Statistics and Mays Business School faculty using a novel mix of distance education and traditional face-to-face in-class instruction within Mays' new custom educational facility at CITYCENTRE in Houston. (Image courtesy of CITYCENTRE.)

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