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Southern, IBM Team Up on Use of Data Analytics

Southern students are bringing their expertise in the rapidly growing field of data analytics to area agencies looking to use “big data” to help grow their companies.

Eight students are serving internships in a variety of fields – a local law firm, the Greater New Haven Chamber of Commerce, the Regional Water Authority and SCSU’s own Office of Assessment and Planning. In addition to the internship experience, students earn an IBM badge they can put on their resumes. Students are currently applying for the fall’s Watson Analytics Internship Program.

Michael Ben-Avie, director of assessment and planning, said the internship experiences benefit the students, the local businesses and IBM. “We’ve taken a leadership position in being the first university to use IBM Watson Analytics at the institutional level to analyze how to most effectively promote students’ academic achievements, retention and graduation,” Ben-Avie said. “And that partnership has really taken off.”

He pointed out that the Greater New Haven Chamber of Commerce wants to expand its membership. “Our students are conducting an analysis of the industries that the chamber has not yet penetrated to a significant level, and which have the potential to be growth areas,” he said. “That information could help the chamber accomplish its goal.”

Data analytics is a growing field used increasingly by businesses and other organizations. The experience gained by the students through the partnership with IBM and area firms will help them considerably in attaining jobs in a field that has become increasingly lucrative over the last few years. It helps find trends and behavioral patterns that might not be readily apparent by conventional analytical methods.

IBM Watson Analytics does not require a person to know computer programming or coding, according to Ben-Avie, which makes its use accessible to a greater number of people. This kind of data also enables organizations to do micro-targeting in a somewhat similar manner as political operatives can micro-target voters.

At Southern, Ben-Avie said the information already has helped the university uncover enrollment and statistical trends. For example, the question often comes up of as to whether Southern has a high percentage of first-generation college students. He said the answer depends upon how you define “first-generation college student.”

Using cognitive analytics, the university is now able to discern the enrollment patterns of students who are the first in their families (including siblings) to attend college and compare those patterns with those who do not have a parent or guardian who graduated with a four-year degree. He said data analytics has enabled the university to ascertain the nuances on this subject and other trends. In turn, that data can be valuable for marketing, recruitment, retention and other purposes.

The partnership between Southern and IBM began about a year ago. Last summer, IBM had asked to publicize the innovative work at Southern. Ben-Avie agreed — with the condition that IBM offer a free boot camp to students.

In a meeting with the Greater New Haven Chamber of Commerce after the boot camp, the idea for an internship program was born. To further publicize Southern’s use of Watson Analytics and data discoveries, Ben-Avie and Randy Messina (manager of IBM Watson Analytics, worldwide public sector) recently teamed up to organize an international webinar.

Applications are now being accepted for the internship program in the fall and is open for students enrolled in any academic program. Knowledge of statistics is not required. The program is limited to 20 students.



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