Graduating from a master’s program is always an impressive and praise-worthy feat. But the class of 2022 reached a particularly important milestone as their numbers included the 500th recipient of an MSBA degree from William & Mary’s Raymond A. Mason School of Business. With the program being only six years old, MSBA contributors and faculty were excited to celebrate during the graduate business commencement ceremony on Saturday, May 21, 2022.
“To have 500 students by our sixth year is remarkable,” said Joe Wilck, clinical professor and current faculty director of the Business Analytics Programs.1
From its creation, the MSBA program has helped pioneering professionals embrace the power of data science and evolve their expertise in business. Keep reading to find out more about how the program began and how the class of 2022 ended on a high note.
Answering the Data Analytics Demand
In 2016, the Mason School of Business recognized a growing demand for a specific skill set in the workplace. More leaders, recruiters, and job descriptions were mentioning “data science,” “data analytics,” and “business analytics” than ever before, and students and faculty alike were taking notice. Led by Professor Jim Bradley and an advisory board of professionals, the residential Master of Science in Business Analytics (MSBA) degree at William & Mary Mason was created to fill that demand and help businesses use data to their advantage.
After a while, it became apparent that although more and more people were interested in this world-class degree, not all of them lived nearby or wanted to make the commute into campus. To offer more flexibility and better career stability, William & Mary created an online option for the MSBA program in 2018. Now, students are able to choose between the two pathways and either earn their degree in one year, full time and in person, or online in as few as 15 months. Both the residential and online MSBA programs provide comprehensive coverage of analytic methodologies with a focus on four skill areas: business acumen, applied mathematics, computing technologies, and communicating with impact.
“It is a testament to the employers’ needs, the vision of Professor Jim Bradley who served as the inaugural Faculty Director, and the commitment of the Business Analytics Advisory Board to ensure our curriculum is market driven,” said Joe Wilck, clinical professor and current faculty director of the Business Analytics Programs. “The MSBA program is the largest STEM graduate program at William & Mary. It is also one of the largest in the country, and one of the few with over 500 graduates.”
Evolution & Expansion
Since its first days in September 2016, the MSBA program has grown from an inaugural cohort of 46 students to a tribe of hundreds of business analytics and data science professionals across every industry in business. To match their caliber, we continuously evaluate our curriculum for upgrades and optimizations, both in terms of content and delivery. In recognition of our academic excellence, both programs have received national acclaim; most notably, the online MSBA was ranked #18 by U.S. News & World Report.2
The diversity within both the online and residential cohorts, and among the full-time faculty who teach them, is shifting to reflect the current demographics in the data analytics field as well. Nearly a third of enrolled MSBA students identify as persons of color, and close to half of enrolled students are female. The business analytics faculty also leads in gender diversity, boasting five full-time female faculty members. And, for the first time last year, two female professors simultaneously instructed both courses in machine learning.
As the MSBA program hits its stride and continues to improve upon itself, more opportunities have emerged for the culminating capstone project. As the final step before graduation, the capstone gives students applicable, real-world experience working as a consultant in a company or organization. Capstones are chosen so that the knowledge and skills students gain will translate into any number of industries and job functions they pursue following graduation.
“The capstone is the culminating experience of the MSBA,” said Wilck. “In sourcing projects, we are looking for four things: a well-defined business problem or business challenge, available data, an engaged client, and a need for a data product such as data visualization, a predictive model, a simulation, or an app. Most of our capstone projects come to us from alumni and board member organizations.”
The Class of ‘22 Makes Its Mark
The 2022 class was certainly notable because it included the Mason School of Business’ 500th graduate. However, this year’s cohort also stood out because they worked with the largest and most diverse group of capstone clients since the residential MSBA program launched in 2016. Here is a sampling of the client partners and their corresponding projects:
The St. James
Students representing both program formats partnered with The St. James, a sports, wellness, and entertainment complex co-founded by William & Mary alumni and entrepreneurs Kendrick Ashton ‘98 and Craig Dixon ’97. The capstone project served a dual purpose as the presentations were featured during the Mason School’s Data Feast Case Competition. There, student teams are judged not only on their actual findings and technical summaries of real-world experiences, but on their presentation skills and business acumen.
“The coding skills and analytics emphasis of the program are foundational to completing the MSBA. However, for me, the capstone’s value went beyond the requirements to build models or generate code,” said Cait Smith, OMSBA ‘22. “Throughout the capstone, I learned to use analytics as part of a holistic answer to a business problem. Creating a bridge between analytics and an understandable answer for the client is a skill increasingly in demand in the workforce. Having one of those skills is valuable; having both is invaluable. The MSBA program taught me both of those skills and I am already using them to great effect.”
Residential MSBA students were assigned to one of nine capstone projects that represented the for-profit, non-profit, and government industries. Other partners included the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT), specifically the Jamestown/Scotland Ferry; Education Elements; NVR Homes; and MyGolfSpy. As with The St. James, many of the residential MSBA capstone clients are connected to William & Mary through the alumni network and the Mason School of Business’ corporate partnership program.
Teams working with Celonis were tasked with solving a business problem using process mining. William & Mary is considered a “Center of Excellence” by Celonis and provides data annually for a capstone project tailored to that specific area of business analytics.
“My interactions with the Mason School of Business students have been overwhelmingly positive. The MSBA students bring a toolkit and curious attitude,” said Andrew Lieberman, MSBA ’18 and Ecosystem Consulting Manager at Celonis. “I am admittedly extremely demanding on the capstone, direct with my feedback, and ambitious with my asks. They showed constant improvement at every stage and put together a product I was proud of, as an alum and employee of Celonis, to show to both IBM and Celonis executives. This year, they proved again why they are the top Process Mining program in North America.”
The Blue Ridge Medical Center
The Blue Ridge Medical Center is a 501(c)3 non-profit Federally Qualified Health Center and Level-III Patient-Centered Medical Home serving rural areas in the western, blue ridge area of Virginia. For their capstone, student consultants used data wrangling, data visualization, and modeling from various data sources to demonstrate ways to reduce the patient no-show rate. Students had routine interaction with the client and were required to use tools such as Tableau, Alteryx, Python and R. The final report, presentation, and modeling artifacts were reviewed by a panel of faculty and client personnel.
“It was a great experience working with Blue Ridge Medical Center,” said Zach Kinchloe MSBA ‘22. “The ability to leverage newly acquired skills to solve real world problems was a great way to end a rigorous course of study. Helping to solve an analytics problem centered around providing care to those in need was very rewarding.”
Estes Express Lines
The Estes Express Lines project included data wrangling, data visualization, and modeling from various data sources to aid in improving their bidding process. The teams worked with Estes leaders including Webb Estes (MAcc '07) and Rusty Hopkins, and presented to a group of Estes executives including Rob Estes, Jr. ‘74.
“Estes Freight Lines is more than just moving freight with trucks and in working with the students, they were able to see immediate insights from the data through visualizations and models,” said Hopkins.
“We wanted to give them a good challenge and also give them an opportunity to grow and learn,” said Webb Estes. “This is an awesome partnership. The students always asked good questions and allowed for imaginative and creative processes to flow within a professional framework. William & Mary produces the highest caliber of students who are able to walk into a boardroom with senior leadership, speak to the industry leaders about the data, and allow the organization to create business-changing decisions.”
Amyris, a synthetic biotechnology and renewable chemical company, collaborated with two teams. The students used actual Amyris customer data to provide insights that will power marketing and operational decisions to drive growth in 2022. Specifically, students were tasked with identifying the “best customers” using analytical techniques of their choice.
Other residential capstone partners included the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT), specifically the Jamestown/Scotland Ferry; Blue Ridge Medical Center; Education Elements; Estes Express; NVR Homes; MyGolfSpy; and Amyris.
500 and Beyond
After taking time to celebrate a much-anticipated milestone graduation, faculty director Joe Wilck plans to continue the program’s success for the next 500 graduates.
“To quote Mason School Dean Larry Pulley, we want to 'bring business back into the business school,' and the capstones for the MSBA programs are doing just that,” said Wilck. “Each of our 500-plus graduates has had that experience to culminate their degree program since the program’s inception, and that opportunity will continue to be available to future students.”
- Retrieved on July 19, 2022, from mason.wm.edu/news/2022/mason-schools-msba-celebrates-milestone-year.php
- Retrieved on July 19, 2022, from usnews.com/education/online-education/college-of-william-and-mary-OBUS0134/business