“Think and Do” approach to educating big data students


IMG_1657One of the big topics at SAS Global Forum 2015 is the analytics skills gap. Tonya Etchison Balan of the Poole College of Management at NC State University presented a case study approach for teaching analytical skills.

The motto at NC State is “Think and Do.” What that means is the university wants students to not only learn to think critically, but also to gain hands-on-experience with the tools that will enable them to be successful in their careers.

What does an analytics MBA need to know?

Balan believes an MBA student needs to be able to understand the entire analytics process, but they don’t need to be experts in every aspect.

She highlighted these four areas of the analytics process that students need to know:

  • Data (What data do I need to answer this question?)
  • Insight (Are there any obvious trends or issues with the data?)
  • Decision (How do I interpret the results of the analysis?)
  • Action (What changes need to be made to the business process?)

How do you create an analytics case study course?

When designing a course, Balan said one approach is to break the course up into modules based on a particular analytical method.

She said the toughest challenges is finding data. “It makes it easier to write a case study when you have real data,” explained Balan.

Her suggestions for finding “real” data include:

You also need the right software and methods. Balan uses the following:


  • Linear regression with real (messy) data
  • Classification Methods
    • Logistic Regression
    • Decision Trees
  • Clustering and Segmentation


  • JMP
  • SAS Enterprise Miner
  • SAS Visual Analytics (and Visual Statistics)
  • SAS OnDemand for Academics
  • Excel

“The idea of a case study is to give the students some business concepts,” said Balan. “It gives them a sense of what the real business problems is.”

The result is a business leader who can “think and do” -- which goes back to the motto at NC State.


About Author

Maggie Miller

Education and Training

+ Maggie Miller was formerly a communications specialist at SAS. You'll likely find her writing blogs, shooting videos and sharing it all on social media. She has nearly ten years of journalism experience that she brings to her writing to help you learn and grow with SAS. Follow on Twitter @maggiemiller0

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