In 2006, professor Jennifer Priestley and her colleagues at Georgia's Kennesaw State University were charged with building a new undergraduate program in statistics. What they created is an applied statistics program that incorporates real data from large companies like CompuCredit, Southern Co. and SAS Institute.
"Everything is scrubbed and anonymous," Priestley emphasizes. In fact, she adds, "the data is a complete disaster, which is actually fabulous because it's real."
Working with the real-world data, students in both the undergraduate and a newer graduate program learn how to extract, load and clean data, and how to create transformations of variables to be analyzed, Priestley explains. Students also learn how to tell a data story.
"Once the data is extracted and cleaned, we emphasize to students that they're only halfway done. Next, the real work starts, which is translating the data into meaningful information to support someone else's business decision-making process," she says.
Today, Kennesaw State offers 50 applied statistics courses and every one of them incorporates use of a real-world data set. The university's master's degree in applied statistics has become its flagship program.
"For me, working with real-world data was invaluable," says Joe Dolan, a graduate student now working as an intern at a media analyst firm. "From what I've seen throughout my time in the job market so far, it's nowhere but up for me."