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(From left): Members of the MS Analytics Class of 2016 at Reed Arena: Pablo Ormachea, Ivan Arrington, Brian Klute, Matt Mettry, John Suarez, Cindy Czako, Yoel Kluk, Sasikala Mohan, Bret Liberatore and Jamey Johnston.

COLLEGE STATION --

Jamey Johnston remembers the day when he got off work and was headed home after a long day in the office.

"I was stuck in traffic, and I saw a billboard on the side of the road that read: 'Master and Maximize Big Data' with Texas A&M's logo next to it," Johnston said. "I quickly went home and did research about this program that offers a degree in what is known as the sexiest job of the century."

Johnston is one of 22 students who earned master's of science in analytics degrees from Texas A&M University in May as members of the second graduating cohort of the MS Analytics Program. Program officials celebrated the graduates, their families and their employers on the final class day, May 12, in a small ceremony at Houston's CityCentre.

"We are proud of our students," said Javier Aldape, MS Analytics Program Manager. "Each has an important job in his or her company. Each went through a rigorous admissions process to enroll in this program. Each has been tested academically. Each has had to divide time between their families, their duties and their school work. To finally see them walk the stage at commencement is an amazing feat."

The program focuses on applying statistical methods to make better business decisions. It was 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.

Since its inception, Program Director Myra Gonzalez says the program's goal has been consistent: to offer a unique experience, from quality content to competitive value. The curriculum is composed of 75 percent statistics and 25 percent business as well as relevant case studies that students can relate and ultimately apply to their work.

"Our students consistently tell us that they directly apply what they learned to their duties at work every week," Gonzalez said. "It's amazing how relevant and applied this program is."

In addition to curriculum, Gonzalez says the program's structure makes it a truly one-of-a-kind hybrid because is offered live at both Houston CityCentre and online.

"We're not just an online program," Gonzalez said. "We value live participation and aim to provide the same experience for everybody. We want our distance students to feel as if they are in Houston in class."

As for Johnston, he says he got exactly what he was expecting from a program that has positioned him to be leader in his company and in analytics, an increasingly vital asset across industries.

"I work for an oil and gas company, and analytics is something my organization wants to expand," Johnston said. "I want to be at the forefront of this transition, and this program has given me the tools I need to lead from within. I felt I was challenged from the very beginning. That's what I was expecting in this program."

Students enrolled in the program must complete a work-based capstone project where they will fit a predictive model and solve a business question.

"It's the cornerstone of our MS Analytics degree," said Dr. Simon J. Sheather, MS Analytics Academic Director. "We assign project coaches based on the scope of the project and the experience the faculty member reflects on the particular project. We have found that every organization who has a student go through our program finds value in their modeling and analytics skills. We're all about career enhancement and pioneering analytics within their current organizations."

During their last class together, the students got a chance to galvanize their peers and employers by sharing key insights about their model.

"We were thrilled to hear students say, 'My CEO was delighted with the results,' or 'My CIO or CDO has already budgeted for an analytics division that I have been tasked to be a part of,'" Aldape said.

As part of the graduation festivities, the program celebrated the 2016 recipients of its most prestigious annual awards: the Roland H. Acra '86 Award and the Margaret Sheather Memorial Award in Analytics. The selection process for both awards is highly competitive, focusing on the quality of students' individual capstone projects and the potential impacts, both for the company and for the student's job.

Michael Davidson received the Roland H. Acra '86 Award for his project, "Unraveling the Geologic and Engineering Drivers of Unconventional Oil Production."

"I discovered that two factors are the key components that drive oil production performance," Davidson said. "My company is really pleased with my capstone and has already put the predictive model into production."

Pablo Ormachea won the Margaret Sheather Award recognizing the best project focused on a nonprofit organization for his project involving interactive games that use cognitive neuropsychiatry to predict intoxication above the legal limit. With the help of training and support from the MS Analytics program, Ormachea developed powerful multivariate models that could effectively predict sobriety.

"This successful proof-of-concept was a critical first step for the start-up company," Ormachea said. "The final product will be used to evaluate dementia and concussion patients."

The MS Analytics students also selected two spokespeople to deliver brief keynote remarks as part of the May 12 celebration. Kelly Schmutzler-Kay was selected as the spokesperson for the distance students, while Ormachea earned the same honor representing the Houston CityCentre students.

"None of what we have achieved here today would be possible without the support of our families and our employers, so 'thank you,'" Schmutzler-Kay said in her opening line. "Our teachers made the decision to forgo the corporate riches and instead share their wisdom and knowledge with each of us. And what should we do with it? Share it with your colleagues, with your friends and with your children. That is the greatest gift we can give."

Ormachea echoed her sentiments in his address on behalf of the Houston CityCentre students.

"Every day, when I wake up I watch the news on my phone and notice that every feed is tailored to a special interest of mine rather than a general newsfeed," Ormachea. "It's driven by data. Everything today revolves around data, and we know how to use it. Guys, we did it!"

Employers were invited to attend the capstone peer presentations hosted by the MS Analytics students.

"This is truly a win-win for the company," said one of the managers representing the employers. "These students are solving real problems that companies face today. It's quite difficult to find employees with the capabilities these students have. They are familiar with the business, they understand the data, they analyze it and, ultimately, they present it."

In a recent survey, 80 percent of the graduating students said they had received a new role at work or were given promotions, while 60 percent earned an increase in pay. More than 90 percent reported increased duties/responsibilities after obtaining newly acquired skills courtesy of the MS Analytics program.

"They're impacting their organizations, and their companies see the value in it," Gonzalez said.

The evening ended with an address to the students and their families from the MS Analytics staff.

"It's been a pleasure working with you these past five semesters," Sheather said on behalf of the group. "To your families in attendance, thank you for the support you gave our students in successfully completing this program. You truly are pioneers, and we congratulate you today. The MS Analytics program also wishes to thank SAS for its generous support."

For more information about the MS 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/.

-aTm-

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

Aldape Javier

  • Jamey Johnston

  • Michael Davidson (left) was honored by Dr. Simon Sheather with the Roland H. Acra '86 Award for best capstone project.

  • Pablo Ormachea (right), earning congratulations from Dr. Sheather on receiving the Margaret Sheather Memorial Award in Analytics for best project in a nonprofit.

  • Kelly Schmutzler-Kay, addressing the guests on behalf of the MS Analytics distance students.

  • Pablo Ormachea, representing the Houston CityCentre students in his keynote remarks.

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