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PSU business school launches new data science concentrations

Portland State University

Demand for tech and business professionals proficient with data has outstripped the supply of talent for years. The Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated that trend. To address this gap, Portland State University is about to introduce two new, completely online programs to teach students how to analyze big data to inform business decisions and manage digital transformation.

The aim is to build a pipeline of graduates to take on new roles in the local technology industry.

For the fall 2020 term, the business school plans to introduce an undergraduate concentration in Business Technology and Analytics and a Master of Science in Applied Data Science for Business.

I sat down with PSU School of Business’ Associate Dean of Undergraduate Programs Erica Wagner and Associate Dean of Graduate Programs Melissa Appleyard to learn more about the programs and their potential impact.

The curriculum for this new concentration focuses on data analysis skills — including technical tools and critical thinking. According to Wagner, graduates will be equipped to integrate business, technology and analytics in an era defined by big data, automation and digital transformation.

Students will be ready for jobs ranging from systems analysts to project managers and consultants, Wagner said.

“Our students will be trained on the technical skills they need to get hired,” said Appleyard. “Graduates will be ready to serve as a bridge between the data scientists in their organizations and business functions.”

Wagner and Appleyard have been in contact with the likes of Nike, Autodesk, Cambia Health Solutions, Bank of America, US Bank, Intel, Daimler and more to discuss participation with internships and externships, as well as to gauge interest in hiring for this skill set.

“A number of our contacts have said they are going to hire every student that comes out of these programs because that’s exactly the talent they are looking for,” said Appleyard.

The faculty is also rooted in the local economy here in Portland. Several of the professors hold positions with companies in the area. For example, Adjunct Professor Shawn Duffy teaches HR data visualization and storytelling and data visualization to undergraduates while maintaining his role at Axian, a software and data solutions provider based in Beaverton.

“The curriculum PSU has chosen for the program focuses on the reality of how technical departments/businesses are run and managed. It also shows a connection to the community that goes beyond platitudes, as faculty are actually preparing the next set of technical managers to come join us,” said Duffy.

 In addition to debuting these two new programs, Wagner and Appleyard are starting a cross-campus initiative called The New Digital Leaders. The new program partners with local elementary, middle and high schools to drum up excitement around the field and create a pipeline to college and employment.

“Through ‘The New Digital Leaders’ program, we aim to reach underserved populations —  people of color, LGBTQ+ and beyond. We have a deep commitment to lessening economic disparities in our society and making Portland known for a diverse talent pool in the technology sector,” said Appleyard.


This is part of a regular guest column written by the Technology Association of Oregon in the Portland Business Journal.

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