1

UM master’s degree in business analytics taps into booming job market

Sarah Thompson told a classroom of about 16 she loves the freedom and creativity of the fifth-year master of science degree in business analytics. (Renata Birkenbuel/Missoula Current)

A fifth-year master of science degree in business analytics has the University of Montana College of Business looking forward and onward as data becomes increasingly crucial across the board.

The beauty of the program is that Zoom video conferencing allows busy business professionals to enroll part time or full-time students to study locally or elsewhere. 

“Data analytics offers a plethora of career opportunities, ranging from business to environmental issues — managing climate data — to policy and social issues — using data to develop smart cities,” said Jakki Mohr, UM marketing professor. 

The 32-credit, accelerated program covers the bases in many high-paying technical jobs.

“Our program offers training in both technical areas — computer programming and statistics — as well as domain expertise, business or related interests.”  

The types of jobs graduates secure include marketing analytics, digital analytics, business intelligence, data science, marketing science and product management. 

UM graduates are working at large multi-national corporations like IBM, information technology consultancies such as FAST Enterprises and KPMG, digital marketing agencies like Tadpull in Bozeman and LumenAd in Missoula – and tech start-ups like OnX Maps and Submittable in Missoula.

An option is a part-time program for staff and other professionals. Flexible scheduling, individualized course selection and affordable tuition are other pluses.

About 16 prospective students, graduates and business types attended a recent information session that Mohr and her faculty colleagues held to give a run-down of the requirements for applying to the program.

Attendee Sarah Thompson is especially exuberant about the program.

“I love data – I developed a love for it in my undergrad (studies),” said Thompson. “This program is incredible. You learn so much. You can create what you want out of the program.” 

For several years, data science has been described as “the sexiest job of the 21st century” by the Harvard Business Review, said Mohr, one of four professors relaying the information to attendees.

IBM, for one, predicts a 28% increase in jobs related to big data in the United States in the next few years.

“The explosion of data — available through an increasingly wired world with the Internet of Things, sensors, platform-based business, e-commerce, etc. — means that companies are struggling to hire the talent with the capabilities to wrangle useful insights from that data,” she added. 

That’s where the UM program makes its entrance.

Lest applicants think all classes are hard-core technical, the scope is broader than expected. A holistic approach is involved in the curriculum. 

“Our program is unique in that students couple their technical training (advanced data analytics) with visualization and storytelling,” said Mohr, “focused on communicating technical analysis to managers and executives in non-technical language.”

Innovation and creativity play large roles in the new degree, what Mohr calls “an important yet uncommon mash-up that allows” graduates to learn how to “unleash” data in a new way.

As for practical, hands-on implications, the college touts its partnerships with local businesses so that students can:

  • Access real data 
  • Complete internships
  • Train in real-world scenarios

In one particularly popular class, students scrape data from social media, then analyze social sentiment and conduct social listening analyses. 

Forget the outdated dry data reputation of old, as students can carefully select electives that fit their interests.

Dawn Hambrick, MSBA program director and scholarships advisor, said interested students can mold or select parts of the program to fit their strengths and needs.

“Students who want the more technical stuff can definitely go outside (the School of Business) and get that,” said Hambrick. “It requires some coordination … so you have to do some planning to make sure those (electives) fit into the schedule that you have.”

Among select electives are those in the MBA program, computer science, and math or statistics.  

The college has “a strategy track” that allows a student to get the fundamentals in advanced data analytics that focuses on business context.

For example, Mohr has a student taking her technology in marketing class that teaches how to develop a commercialization and marketing strategy for a data analytics company.

“The important thing is your electives should be to a cohesive body of study and not sort of be randomized, because that makes a little harder for you to position yourself when you decide you’re ready to meet with employers,” Hambrick added.

Anyone can apply to the program, but applicants must have three foundation classes under their belt, plus an internship experience. 

The creation of the master’s program grew from talks with the Missoula Economic Partnership in 2015, when it became apparent that employers needed more students trained in data science.

Mohr said loyal alumni-turned-recruiters specifically requested students trained in data analytics. 

“Third, our digital marketing certificate was attracting the best marketing and management information systems students, and we saw the opportunity of providing those stand-out students with a fifth-year graduate degree,” added Mohr.   

Scholarships are available, as Hambrick said for the year 2019, the college awarded $435,000 in scholarships to both graduate and undergraduate students – with the least amount at $1,000 and the highest amount at $12,000.

Applications for scholarships open Dec. 1 and closes March 1, but a student must be admitted to the program by Feb. 1, said Hambrick. 

For more program specifics, including the course work, prerequisites, career paths, admission requirements and financial aid, call 406-243-2064.

Contact Business Reporter Renata Birkenbuel at renatab@missoulacurrent.com and 406-565-0013.