IBM and Southern recently teamed up to offer a “boot camp” for about 70 university students and faculty members in the use of IBM Watson Analytics – a cutting-edge, cloud-based service designed to simplify and enhance data analysis.
The participants engaged in a two-day program, which focused on how to analyze “big data,” as well as understanding analytic software and offering a taste of what it is like to work as a data scientist. The program was offered for free by IBM, according to Michael Ben-Avie, SCSU’s director of the Office of Assessment and Planning and coordinator of the boot camp.
“We thank IBM for its willingness to offer this program at no cost to our students,” Ben-Avie said. “This was a great opportunity for Southern.” He added that students also received free five-year licenses for Watson Analytics.
The program came about as a result of a budding relationship between the university and the technology giant. While the software has been used for a variety of purposes, including by faculty as a classroom tool, Ben-Avie said Southern’s use of it marked the first time a university has used it at the institutional level to discover trends and important predictors of student success.
Ben-Avie analyzed SCSU assessment data using IBM Watson Analytics. The data included statistics — such as SAT scores, class rank, retention rates and graduation rates – as well as the results from the Southern Experience Survey. Watson’s cognitive analytics helped the university to see the “difference that makes a difference” when it comes to student retention and achievement, according to Ben-Avie. “SAT scores were weak predictors,” he said. “Instead, a sense of belonging and the quality of the relationships that students formed with faculty and staff were far stronger predictors.”
IBM began showcasing SCSU as an example of how the data can be used successfully for university-wide purposes.
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“I don’t think you’ll find anyone who is as passionate about student success as Michael,” said Randy Messina, an IBM representative.
Messina noted that IBM agreed to offer the boot camp because of its ability to help not only SCSU, but the state. “We know that about 80 percent of Southern graduates live and work in Connecticut after graduation, and that’s important,” Messina said. “We are more than happy to invest in Southern.”
Those who successfully completed the two-day program earned an IBM Certificate of Achievement that will provide students with an edge when applying for jobs or graduate school, Ben-Avie said.
Data analytics is a growing field used increasingly by businesses and other organizations.