The power of data analytics

Aayush Agrawal
Photo by Ackerman & Gruber

In the digital age, satellites, corporate networks, social media, and web-connected machines produce vast amounts of information that can shed light on matters once closed to human understanding. The power of data analytics can boost crop yields, explain the progression of Alzheimer’s disease, and search for distant galaxies.

One of the challenges in this exploding field is finding the talent necessary to parse rich data stores and divine knowledge from them.

“Companies are frankly drowned in data; they truly lack insight,” says Ravi Bapna, associate dean for executive education in the Carlson School. “Unless you know how to analyze the data to draw out the patterns and narratives that inform business decisions, it’s of no value.”

Data analytics has long been a strength of the University, yet even parts of the University not generally associated with data have more recently embraced analytics. The Carlson School of Management debuted its master’s in business analytics degree in 2014. As part of the accelerated one-year program, students serve as analytics consultants to Twin Cities companies. For 14 weeks, firms are paired with teams of graduate students skilled in data visualization, predictive analytics, and other techniques.

Many graduates of the program receive job offers right out of school. As a Carlson student, Aayush Agrawal (M.S. ’17) worked on a team project for Land O’Lakes that involved developing a statistical toolfor comparing growing conditions on agricultural test fields spread across the country. Today, he’s lead data scientist for Land O’Lakes, working with students in the analytics lab on other data assignments for the company.

Agrawal says his student project honed not just his analytical capabilities but also his collaborative skills, vital for success in business.

“As a member of a team you get to learn a lot about team dynamics and how to set expectations and deadlines,” he says. “No matter how good you are as an individual contributor, teamwork is something you can’t avoid; you have to work in teams to get big things done.”


This story is part of a broader Minnesota Alumni magazine feature about how the U of M is preparing students for the careers of the future.