Blog Academics, Alumni

University of Northwestern Launches New MBA Concentration in Data Analytics

By Linda LaFrombois on Monday, July 1, 2019


It was January 2013 and Target Corporation had just announced its initial, robust expansion into Canada. The future for the retail giant was promising. To the surprise of many, only two years later the company revealed that it would close each of its 133 Canadian stores by the end of the calendar year. Failure to thrive in this new North American market—the company’s first international venture—cost Target more than $5 billion.

It was during the summer of 2015, in the midst of the Canada store closures, that Shaylan Hurley ’16 landed an internship with Target in Strategy Finance. His team was tasked with developing an international shipping strategy.

“It’s where my passion for Data Analytics began,” says Hurley.

Trying to push an international shipping strategy to Target leadership wasn’t easy.

“If we went to executives without data and said we have an idea to ship internationally, it would go nowhere,” he says.

So Hurley and his team began to examine the data behind the actions of the international customers visiting Target’s website.

The data revealed that people shopping on from other countries would place items in an online cart and then leave the site when they got to the checkout page because they couldn’t actually purchase the products.

“We were able to quantify that pattern to a large degree with data and suggest that international shipping was a good idea,” he remembers. “It opened my mind to the possibility of using data to influence decisions and people.”

A Passion for Data Analytics

Today, Hurley works as a data analyst for St. Louis Park-based DataDrive. His role is to analyze data collected by companies to uncover data-based opportunities for the businesses to successfully change and grow.

Nearly every organization today collects data. As data analysts and scientists, Hurley and the team at DataDrive use the latest technologies to mine, analyze, and interpret that data—unlocking its secrets. They then translate the data into presentations and visualizations that heavily-scheduled members of leadership can quickly understand and use to make key business decisions. In other words, they are helping businesses succeed by enabling them to become data-driven decision makers.

The Need for Data Analysts Tops the Charts

In the April 30, 2019 Wall Street Journal article, “Supply of Analytics Workers Set to Double,” Angus Loten reported that “Analytics is among the most in-demand IT skill-sets in nearly every industry as companies expand the use of data to drive business decisions, automate services, or even run entire areas of daily operations.”

Lotin reports that “tech jobs accounted for 7.6% of the U.S. workforce last year, or roughly 11.8 million workers, up from 7.2% in 2017, according to CompTIA. The industry trade group expects the number of tech jobs to grow 13.1% by 2026, compared with a 10.7% growth rate for jobs in all occupations.”

UNW’s New MBA Concentration in Data Analytics

This fall, the University of Northwestern will launch a new MBA concentration in Data Analytics in response to the burgeoning need for business leaders with aptitude in both management and technical skills. The 42-credit Master’s degree provides 28 credits in core business and leadership courses that can be taken online or in a blended online/on-campus format, and 14 credits specific to data analytics are available fully online.

The new program, which can be completed in as little as 24 months, is designed to develop business soft skills alongside analytical hard skills through subjects including business analysis, data mining, and forecasting.

Leadership and Cutting-Edge Technology

A hallmark of the new Data Analytics concentration is the suite of software and technology students will study and use. Tools used to develop the MBA concentration include:

  • SAS, the leader in the commercial business for statistical software
  • Tableau, the leader in visualization software
  • BayesiaLab, a unique software that looks at the interaction of probabilities in which a decision can be made
  • Python, R, and other software programs

Another key feature of the Data Analytics concentration is the use of both virtual and cloud environments. The program will use the Amazon Cloud, along with databases such as Hadoop.

Faith-based Education in a Culture of Data Misuse

Offering a data analytics program at the graduate level is unique. Providing graduate-level data analytics courses in a faith-based program is even more rare. Biblical values woven into every course at Northwestern provide the perfect foundation for the new MBA concentration in Data Analytics.

Northwestern chose to invest in the creation of the new program because the need for faith-based data analysts is great.

“As the person in control of information, you have a lot of control over what that information says,” Hurley explains. “You can twist data to say whatever you want; that’s where ethics come into play. Is the story I’m telling with this data true, or am I trying to push forward my own agenda?”

In their 2018 CIO Survey, Harvey Nash/KPMG reported that while the use of data for market decisions continues to increase and build competitive advantage, in the wake of “high-profile court cases around data misuse… data privacy and trust are increasingly a concern.”

“One of the areas where I see Northwestern as excellent and leading is in the ethical use of information,” says Mark Antiel, assistant professor of Business Data Analytics at the University of Northwestern. “We hear in the news about security breaches and the misuse of social networking, where information is compromised. In the Data Analytics concentration at Northwestern, we’ll discuss events and cases such as this within the Christian perspective.”

Positioned for Influence and Good

“We can’t keep up with the demand for data analysts and scientists in the marketplace,” says Antiel.

Having built and led data departments at organizations such as NASA, St. Jude Medical, and American Family Insurance, Antiel knows firsthand the wealth of opportunities Northwestern’s new Data Analytics concentration will offer graduates.

He also sees the critical influence graduates rooted in cutting-edge technological skills and sound Christian ethics can have in our society and world.

The field of Data Analytics is “so new there are no rules yet—as we’ve been seeing in Congress” in relation to the use of social network information.

Because of this, Antiel is convinced that leaders in Data Analytics who are rooted in biblical values have the potential to shape not only how information is collected, used, and processed, but also the laws and policies being created around the use of data.

“STEM skills are vital to the world we live in today, but technology alone, as Steve Jobs famously insisted, is not enough. We desperately need the expertise of those who are educated to the human, cultural, and social as well as the computational.” —Valerie Strauss, Education Reporter for the Washington Post

STEM Skills and Soft Skills

In her article, “The surprising thing Google learned about its employees—and what it means for today’s students,” Valerie Strauss, education reporter for the Washington Post, says, “STEM skills are vital to the world we live in today, but technology alone, as Steve Jobs famously insisted, is not enough. We desperately need the expertise of those who are educated to the human, cultural, and social as well as the computational.”

Developing these characteristics in students and graduates through the leadership and technology courses is at the heart Northwestern’s mission and the new MBA concentration.

“My experience in working with Northwestern students has been fantastic,” says Luke Komiskey, founder of DataDrive. “They bring that perfect balance of really good technical skills and technology experience—but they also have the soft skills that I look for in consultants.”

Being curious, being able to ask smart questions, and to work with clients to find effective solutions—not just what the client asks for, but what they actually need, Komiskey explains, is a rare set of skills that he sees in Northwestern graduates.

“With this degree, you’ll be able to collect, analyze, and interpret information from your organization and make key decisions that are important for your company. —Dr. Jonathan Zderad, Chair of the Department of Computing, Data, and Mathematical Sciences

“At the graduate level, data analysis is more than just developing skills and learning the tools to analyze and forecast,” says Dr. Jonathan Zderad, Chair of the Department of Computing, Data, and Mathematical Sciences. “It’s about being able to take those analyses and link them to an organizational mission—to be able to innovate and make managerial decisions.”

Preparation for Career Growth

With a wealth of experience and a surprising amount of success for one so new to the field, Hurley understands the immense value an MBA with a concentration in Data Analytics would provide professionals seeking to advance and grow their careers.

“An MBA with a concentration in Data Analytics is a great option if you want to have a successful long-term career in data analytics,” says Hurley. “It gives you the opportunity to take a step back and learn your trade in a much more in-depth way—which is extremely valuable in an industry where technology is constantly changing and evolving.”

MBA with a Concentration in Data Analytics

Learn more about this dynamic degree.