ISE announces new masters concentration in Advanced Analytics

June 9, 2016

Mike Helenthal

The frontier of computer technology is still untamed. For now. But the growing field of Data Analytics promises new methiods of making vast amounts of data manageable.

“Computers have never had enough sensors or power to collect and organize data,” says ISE department head and Donald Biggar Willett Professor Dr. Rakesh Nagi,.

“Until now.”

Nagi calls the emerging field of data analytics the “convergence of the quantitative decision sciences.”

You can call it the beginning of the reinvention of everything.

“It’s left us swimming in a sea of data – but now we have to answer: How do we analyze it and find creative ways for leveraging it to make better decisions and create a better world?”

Whatever the terminology, ISE isn’t waiting around for someone else to find out where this newly discovered path of analytics leads.

This fall, the department unveiled its new Advanced Analytics master’s concentration, giving students six new focused course options that teach them how to apply engineering approaches and methods to the analysis and management of engineering and business processes.

Students will learn how to collect, clean, and analyze data; build decision models based on data; and make predictions and decisions.

Nagi says the concentration is a sign of the department’s commitment to Illinois engineering students who want to take advantage of the seemingly endless possibilities that the growing field of data analytics presents.

“We teach how to make data decisions to solve real-world problems, and are giving students more choices for where they can apply this knowledge,” he says. “With the concentration, they have a brand-new set of courses that they can custom-design and get the outcome they are looking for.”

Of course, the department already teaches analytics courses, but the concentration will formalize analytics as its own discipline – one that can be applied to almost any other discipline.

The new advanced classes in the concentration are open to all graduate students:

  • IE 528 Computing for Data Analytics
  • IE 529 Stats of Big Data and Clustering
  • IE 530 Optimization for Data Analytics
  • IE 531 Algorithms for Data Analytics
  • IE 532 Analysis of Network Data
  • IE 533 Big Graphs and Social Networks

The program has taken three years to plan and implement, using the expertise of the ISE faculty, who have a broad range of engineering specialties. It won final approval from the Illinois Board of Trustees in July.

Associate Professor R.S. Sreenivas, head of ISE’s Graduate Studies program, says the department has gone the extra mile to ensure the concentration has real value to students—and employers—after they graduate.

Just having the ability to collect data is an important first step, he says, but the new concentration will teach students how to use data to solve problems that go beyond consumers’ video-watching preferences.

“You need to know calculus, you need to know programming, you need to know physics,” he says. “Every discipline is data-rich at this point, but we want our students to find the connections in all of these diverse areas.”

He says the analytics focus isn’t necessarily about building things, but thinking of how all of the component parts are related, from the supply chain to the materials used.

“What we are doing is giving students the basic building materials so they can apply it to the next application need that comes along, or to make a company’s production system more efficient,” he says. “In order to do that, we have to be able to effectively process data and understand as much as we can. We want our students to know how to make things, but we also teach them to understand how they’re made.”

Sreenivas says that extra level of thinking – a holistic engineering view – is what will push the field to make even greater discoveries.

“It’s these creative things that come into play, when you use your own personality and experiences to bring something new out of the data,” he says. “That’s why the diversity of what our students learn is as important as an individual concept – it can influence everything.”

Nagi says the department is trying to fill not only students’ needs with the addition of the Advanced Analytics concentration, but society’s.

He says the decision to add the concentration was guided by many conversations among industry-involved faculty, as well as reliance on major industry reports explaining the current and future state of the discipline.

One of them, the 2011 McKinsey Global Institute report, “Big Data: The Next Frontier for Innovation, Competition and Productivity,” warns of a shortage of “deep analytical” talent that could reach as high as 190,000 unfilled positions in the U.S. by 2018.

“Our objective is to help meet this large demand from the external world to analyze all of the information that’s being collected,” he says. “Our students will not only know the theory, but how to manipulate the data for a better outcome.”

He says Illinois is particularly well-placed to give students the most up-to-date analytics education experience because of the university’s neighboring Research Park, which houses industry heavyweights like Yahoo! and InBev.

When the department wanted to offer a cloud computing course, for example, they reached out to Yahoo!

“We are very fortunate that a number of industry players are right in our own backyard,” Nagi says. “It provides a real opportunity for our students that they can’t get just anywhere. We want to open as many doors for students as we can.”

See detailed information on the Advanced Analytics master’s concentration.

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