In response to the needs of an ever-changing business environment, Saint Mary’s University launched its Business Intelligence and Analytics undergraduate program in 2013. Now beginning its fifth year, the program is growing, with 48 students currently enrolled. But the true evidence of the success of the program can be verified through the outcomes of Business Intelligence and Analytics alumni who are now employed with: major league sport teams, major airlines, the U.S. government, and multinational corporations.

The university prepares students for success in the job market through a series of rigorous courses in statistics, business, communications, computer science, and ethics. From the beginning, Saint Mary’s Business Intelligence and Analytics students have been connected with regional industry leaders to immerse students in real-world data projects.

“From day one, our program trained students to work with industry,” said Michael Ratajczyk, assistant professor of business. “We completed consulting projects for local businesses and now have experience with international businesses as well.”

Students find these experiences invigorating. Dixon Irwin ’18 agrees that these types of projects are valuable. “I am learning skills that can help me communicate better,” he said. “The projects we work on are very similar to possible situations we could see on the job, so it’s beneficial to get this ‘real world’ experience.”

In the final project for the program, students are required to build an 80 million record data warehouse using advanced design techniques to solve a major business problem. When completed, students must give live presentations and write term papers explaining their work. As with any Ratajczyk course in analytics, he throws in plenty of errors to keep students on their toes. “It’s one thing to teach students to type in some code, hit a button, or import a library to a software package, but it is something entirely different to coherently explain their data set and results in real-time to a wide variety of audiences,” he said.

Shawn Gilbert, a senior Business Intelligence major added, “The real value of the program comes not only from classroom instruction but also from the realistic nature of assignments and projects,” he said. “Students receive datasets embedded with errors or unclear instructions with the purpose of simulating real-world problems in the work force. These issues force us to problem solve, and it prepares us for handling imperfect data sets which are the norm in the analytics world.”

Saint Mary’s is launching an online Master of Science program in Business Intelligence and Data Analytics next spring as well. Ratajczyk will develop the program as program director and will continue to focus on real-world experiences and partnerships at every possible avenue.


Photo caption: Dixon Irwin ’18 presents to Winona business leaders.

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