BY CHRISTINE ARRINGTON
In this burgeoning new age of “big data” and business intelligence driven by internet-enabled information, the Jon M. Huntsman School of Business is adding a number of programs and offerings that will strengthen its students preparation for the rapidly changing work world. These additions include a new master’s degree in financial economics, a restructured 10-month MBA program, and the hiring of 10 new faculty members with significant expertise in the more analytical disciplines.
These changes and improvements will further leverage the programs and courses already in place at the school in service of students’ increased need for analytical expertise.
A good example of cutting-edge analytics at the Huntsman School comes from the MIS department, where students Sterling Morris and Josh Light worked together with a team to create the entrepreneurial prizewinning Politicit.com website mentioned on page 7 in this magazine; it tracks keywords about politicians across the web through social media and key “influencers” to predict how public opinion is trending, even before polls have detected a change. Each candidate’s “IT” score is based on a neural network model that measures the buzz around that candidate.
The professor and student discussed the kinds of new skills and techniques needed to take full advantage of the information now available online.
“Barack Obama has 25 million Facebook friends, each of whom has, on average, 390 friends,” Professor John D. Johnson, team advisor, offered. “If he reaches out to his Facebook friends and they contact their friends, minus any duplication, he can get his message out to a vast number of people.”
“Currently we’re utilizing what we term ‘stat 2.0,’ or second generation statistics,” Josh said. “Traditional statistics was conceived in an era with limited data and computational power. That is no longer the problem. At Politicit.com, we download up to 20 megabytes of data every day from the internet, traditional media, and social media, including every Twitter hash-tag having to do with a presidential candidate. Then we mine the data, analyzing which tweets go viral, figuring out who the most important ‘influencers’ are and what they’re saying.”
The next stage is using tools smartly to get messages to “go viral” — be repeated and forwarded by huge numbers of people.
“We can identify, say, five key words that have been influential,” Josh said. “Then we can calculate how many times a message will be retweeted. Eventually it will be like a genetic algorithm that can be programmed to repair itself.”
One project the team is developing is an “advocate network” through which voter lists can be “socialized” in order to get messages to have a viral effect; the network could include giving members points for retweeting, for example, and could allow them to earn prizes over time.
“The question is, can I use data mining to understand the interactions of individuals and how they influence others well enough to construct influence networks?” Josh said. He’s working on that now.
A new Master of Science degree in financial economics will be launched in the fall of 2012. Tyler Bowles, head of the Economics and Finance Department, said this degree will prepare students for demanding careers in the financial services industry with the requisite quantitative analytical expertise to succeed in that challenging and challenged industry.
The degree includes a macroeconomics course that has been significantly redesigned under the direction of Tyler Brough and Ben Blau. This course now includes more rigorous quantitative and econometric components.
Influenced, in part, by the book “Rethinking the MBA” by Datar, Garvin, and Cullen, the Huntsman School’s MBA program has been restructured to meet the needs of today’s work force. The program is directed by Professor Konrad Lee and is adding skills focused on “knowing, doing, being.” It is a 10-month MBA that is ideal for students who have already taken some undergraduate business courses. Students also can take preparatory courses over the summer, if needed, before starting the program.
This follows the emergence of some other one-year MBA programs at schools such as Notre Dame and INSEAD. Between saving the cost of an additional year of school and earning money during that year, the one-year MBA can be seen as offering a $100,000 difference, versus a traditional two-year MBA.
Professor Lee said the program was restructured to offer more flexibility, turning some three-credit courses into two-credit courses, and including some one-week programs on topics such as “negotiating for executives.” The analytical components of the program were strengthened, as well, including the addition of a new business intelligence class.
As detailed in the “New Faces” section of the magazine on pages 8-9, ten new professors have been hired, including several specifically in quantitative and analytics-focused disciplines, such as microeconomics and finance. These will add considerably to the preparation of Huntsman students.
Following are several profiles of alumni who have utilized analytical skills extensively in achieving their career successes.