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Data analytics + the liberal arts = good business intelligence

Analyze a large amount of information from multiple sources, then make good decisions about what to do with that information? Sounds like the life of a typical Augustana student, in any major, at any time during the college’s 160 years. 

Actually, this describes in simple terms the work of data analytics—a new academic program at Augustana, and a relatively recent career field worldwide. At a time when mass information keeps coming from all directions, the ability to identify and interpret data that is relevant and necessary is increasingly important to business and industry. 

Data analytics is the science of analyzing raw data to find trends and draw conclusions that can improve performance. Augustana is one of only a few liberal arts colleges with a data analytics major. It’s multidisciplinary, with applications to many areas, which is why a broad liberal arts education is excellent background for a career in data analytics. 

Valerie Kroll ’07 works in digital analytics, a subfield of data analytics. The field was brand new when she was at Augustana, where she studied business administration–marketing and psychology. 

“There weren’t any classes in digital analytics, or how to leverage Javascript-based tags and data coming through your CRM (customer relationship management), and all the different business intelligence to move your business forward,” she explained. “It didn’t exist.”

But her liberal arts education prepared her in important ways, especially her critical thinking skills and ability to connect information from different areas. Today she’s the director of optimization at Search Discovery and president of the Digital Analytics Association in New York City. 

“I’m not afraid of some of the challenges or the constantly changing ecosystem, because what Augustana provided me was the chance to explore lots of different topics, and lots of different ways of studying, that prepared me for this constantly changing environment.”

While data analytics is one of Augustana’s newest academic programs, it extends from long-established fields at the college. Any major that involves analysis of large volumes of data can be a good combination with data analytics. This is another reason why the program works so well at Augustana, where more than 40% of students has more than one major. 

Any major that involves analysis of large volumes of data can be a good combination with data analytics. This is another reason why the program works so well at Augustana, where more than 40% of students has more than one major. 

“There is not a single major it doesn’t go with,” according to Dr. Marty Coe, holder of Augustana’s inaugural Robert A. Hanson Endowed Chair in Data Analytics. 

“Data analytics is everywhere. I am very comfortable saying that data analytics relates to every discipline—and, given that, a liberal arts perspective helps us embed data analytics into every discipline.”

Focusing on business analytics, Augustana’s major includes coursework in computer science, mathematics, ethics and statistics, along with courses specific to data analytics. Complementary coursework ranges from business to geography to philosophy. 

Dr. Coe sees Augustana’s academic program as “proxy for the world” Augustana graduates will enter.

“One thing I would offer from my personal experience is that having the liberal arts perspective is helpful in identifying the questions that need to be answered with data analytics, as opposed to only providing the technical skills,” he offered. 

“The students that come out of Augie understand the questions—and the reason why we need data analytics.”

Understanding the questions can prepare you to be a leader in data analytics, and in any field—but especially one that’s so new there are still many questions, and the questions keep changing. The fast-changing technology of 2020 and beyond means technical skills can quickly fade. But the ability to think fast, make connections and solve problems will always be valuable.

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