Client projects give MSBA students opportunity to show what they learned in new program

MSBA students pose for photo in classroom

Dr. Kim Rubenstein didn’t go to Miami, but thanks to the Master of Science in Business Analytics program, she’s a big fan of some Miami students. “They were stellar -- their professionalism, professional composure, their genuine interest and curiosity,” she recalled. “Never once did they feel like students to me. It was wild.”

Rubenstein and her business partner Andrea Meltzer created Compatibility LLC, an automated mentoring product that's used in higher education and non-profit companies. “We had a dashboard, ways that we would visualize the data for users, but we were really missing a piece for the institutions to say, ‘Here's what your community members look and feel like, and here's some ways in which you can actually reach out and help them.’”

A mutual contact put Rubenstein in touch with Dr. Allison Jones-Farmer, one of the instructors for the MSBA program, which is designed to equip the next generation of analytics professionals with the skills to leverage data for decision making across a wide array of fields. “There is a big need in the marketplace for leaders that have the technical acumen, but also the ability to translate that technical acumen into real business solutions. And that's what we do in this program,” Jones-Farmer explained. “It's a blend of the technical and the soft skills that they need in order to have the technical foundation, but also have the business acumen and the communication skills to be able to deliver value on day one.”

Part of this year’s cohort of students, some online, some in-person, was tasked with working with Compatibility. “We needed to figure out how to tell the story with just one kind of information, how to extract information from the data that we had, was kind of our first step,” student Molly Izenson said. “From there, we were playing around with the data on the dashboard tool that we used. We met with our client every two weeks. We would show her a product at two weeks and then she would tell us some things to change, and we would explain what we're trying to do.”

“I gave them a data dump and they figured out what it was, and I would meet with each team every other week. I could see natural leaders emerging, people taking on leadership roles and facilitating a dialogue as if they were consulting with me,” Rubenstein explained. “They always were very inclusive and very centric to what was important to me.”

Meanwhile, the rest of the MSBA cohort was working on a different project for DHL Supply Chain, a company that’s no stranger to the Farmer School. “We've got a lot of students that we typically recruit for operations management roles, typically operations supervisors, in our warehouses,” Director of Business Data Analytics Ben Lynch remarked, noting that the company has worked with Jones-Farmer’s undergraduate classes over the past two years.

“They presented us with the charge of more accurately defining how their employees ramp up when they're working in the warehouse,” student Claire Linn explained, noting that DHL had a general idea about how long it takes an associate to ramp up from their first day on the job to being fully operational, but they were looking for a more data-based model.

“The second question that they wanted us to answer was what factors about each of these floor working associates leads to higher productivity overall,” student Andrew Bubnar recalled. “We weren't given any demographic data. We were given data related to their actual time on the job, what kind of functions that they were doing, who their supervisor was, what shifts they were working, how many hours the average shift was, things like that.”

“We had weekly meetings typically with each group, and the students would lead the meetings,” Lynch said. “They would talk about what they focused on, ask us some questions, and we just helped them along to help answer those questions and provide additional data if they asked for it.

At the end, the results the MSBA students returned to the clients left them impressed. “We were quite surprised -- in a good way -- with the level of detail. I was very impressed on some of the things that are very hard to teach in the analytics world,” Lynch said. “They asked the right questions, and they were able to fine tune their solution to our team and our leaders. So that's why out of all the projects we’ve had, this one is the most implementable, the one that we can act on right away. So we were very impressed from that perspective.”

“From a workforce development perspective, I got so much for my company out of this experience, that's going to inform our technology that my head spins,” Rubenstein said. “The work that they did is at such a level that it really added value to my company. There was significant value in this partnership added to my company that will continue to support our growth.”

For their part, the students said that the projects and the MSBA program itself have helped them prepare for the world beyond Oxford. “This was my first taste of consulting, and it was something that I really was interested in. My favorite part was talking to the client -- I absolutely loved her. It was my first taste of what a career could be like from this program,” Izenson said.

“Getting that technical experience with coding languages and working with real data is something else,” Bubnar noted. “I've worked with a lot of made up data, but getting real world experience was definitely a highlight and a key experience that I think helped get a lot of students in the program into jobs.”

“Me and my team, we drew a lot from the project because we had never really taken something start to finish with that long of a scope,” student Evan Jones said. “So it was really rewarding for us and our clients as well. We were happy with the end result.

“We just had such a solid support system through the entire program. And I don't think you're necessarily getting that at other similar programs elsewhere,” Izenson remarked. “I think it's just a unique Miami quality that other programs can't necessarily provide.”