2014 Data+ Editors' Choice Awards

Kennesaw State University

An applied statistics program at a Georgia university digs into real-world data from large companies.

2014 Data+ Editors' Choice Awards

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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.

Kennesaw State’s big data team David Caselli

Kennesaw State’s big data team: Ken Hoganson, chair of the computer science department; Lewis VanBrackle, chair of the statistics and analytical sciences department; Jennifer Lewis Priestley, professor of statistics and data science; Joe Dolan, a student pursuing a master’s in applied statistics. Not pictured: Mark Anderson, dean of the college of science and mathematics.

"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."

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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