Meet the inaugural graduates of the Texas A&M Masters of Science in Analytics Program (left to right:) Bora Tarhan, Steven Bowden, Mike Bergeron, Salsawit Shifarraw, Lauren Engle, Erin Parrott, Aaron Agnew and Danny Leonard.


Spring commencement is a special occasion on college campuses across the world for students, parents and educators alike. In May, the "parents" of one of Texas A&M University's newest graduate degrees, the Masters of Science in Analytics, celebrated the program's first graduating class.

When Professor Simon J. Sheather, Academic Director, and Program Director Myra Gonzalez started Texas A&M's analytics program in 2013, they had one common goal: produce graduates who will lead the future in big data and analytics within their organizations. After a rigorous admissions process and with only six days to spare before the start of the fall semester, Aggie Analytics welcomed its inaugural class of 13 students.

"We knew it was going to be a challenge, but we also knew that we had the best faculty to effectively teach the students," Sheather said.

Thursday, May 14 marked the end of the Class of 2015's academic preparation and the beginning of their roles as big data analysts. That same day, Sheather and Gonzalez congratulated the students, their families and their employers on their historic accomplishments in a small celebration at Houston's CityCentre.

"Aggie Analytics wishes to congratulate the Class of 2015 and to personally thank SAS for their generous contributions to and support for our program," Sheather said. "It's been a great pleasure to have had you in this program, and we look forward to seeing you lead your analytics teams in your organizations."

Gonzalez notes that analytics became a popular trend after the surge in big data and the tremendous effort companies were making in order to make sense of it. Texas A&M recognized the need to bring meaning to that data by helping business professionals develop the deep analytical skills necessary to master and maximize the information and successfully communicate it for a variety of settings and purposes. Thus, the university's two-year, Houston-based program was born, launched in fall 2013 by the Texas A&M Department of Statistics in partnership with Mays Business School and bolstered by a significant donation from business analytics software and services leader SAS.

"Our program is unique because it is designed to provide students with the skillset needed to analyze big data, not only from a technical perspective, but also through a combination of both hard and soft skills," Gonzalez said.

The program curriculum is customized to teach students how to build a predictive model using sophisticated statistical methods and then to relay that information to the leadership in their companies.

"It's a win-win situation when you produce students who can build models and effectively share what they have discovered with their decision-makers," Sheather said.

Sheather and Gonzalez agree that the Class of 2015 had many accomplishments to celebrate throughout the program, but one in particular stands out: the capstone project. Prior to enrolling in the program, candidates are required to get their company's sponsorship, giving them access to mentorship and a business problem that they are expected to solve as part of their graduate degree experience. The students start work on this project at the beginning of the program and then present it to their committee at the end.

"It's a very interesting process," Sheather said. "The students go about collecting the data, meeting with their companies to discuss what needs to be solved, working with a faculty member who serves as project coach and getting feedback from their peers on their progress."

During the CityCenter festivities, Steve Bowden and Bora Tarhan were honored with the Roland H. Acra '86 Award recognizing the best capstone project. The two winning capstones focused on predicting customer churn, and modeling the spatial and temporal factors that affect the retail price of gasoline across the United States. Salsawit Shifarraw received the Margaret Sheather Memorial Award in Analytics for the best capstone project focused on a nonprofit organization -- a model that determines the key drivers of patient ratings in the HCAHPS hospital surveys. Additional students were recognized for their performance in the program with accolades ranging from Rising Star Awards to Most Valuable Analysts.

"It's an amazing experience to see these students with a basic foundation in predictive modeling in the beginning actually become fluent and proactive in analyzing data and in asking the right questions at the end," Gonzalez said.

For more information about the Masters of Science in Analytics program, visit http://analytics.stat.tamu.edu/.

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


Contact: Javier Aldape, (979) 845-2149 or jaldape@tamu.edu or Myra Gonzalez, (979) 845-6855 or myra-g@tamu.edu

Aldape Javier

  • Bora Tarhan (left) and Steve Bowden (right) were honored by Aggie Analytics Academic Director Simon J. Sheather (center) with the Roland H, Acra '86 Award recognizing the best capstone project.

  • Salsawit Shifarraw (left) also earned Sheather's praise and the Margaret Sheather Memorial Award in Analytics for best capstone project focused on a nonprofit organization.

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