Nestled on Centennial Campus is NC State’s smallest academic unit, the Institute for Advanced Analytics, which has quietly made a name for itself as a pioneer in higher education. Earlier this year, the institute celebrated its 15th anniversary doing what it does best: producing some of the university’s most sought-after graduates in its Master of Science in Analytics (MSA) program.
Recognized as the nation’s first full-fledged degree aimed at training a new generation of data-savvy professionals, the program was launched in 2007 with two dozen students. Today, more than 1,200 MSA alumni are employed in 400 organizations coast-to-coast and in 25 countries.
Since its inception in 2007, the institute has sent out a host of career-ready data scientists.
$107,900 Average starting salary
Students are in high demand, with 100% finding employment upon graduation.
The institute is one of the main reasons NC State is a top destination for aspiring data scientists. Over the past 15 years, he has risen rapidly through the ranks to become the university’s fourth-largest producer of STEM master’s graduates, according to data compiled by the UNC system administration office.
The institute’s Class of 2022 had a lot to celebrate at the start in May. All 115 degree candidates had accepted new jobs, earning a median starting salary of $112,500. The average graduate realized a 90% increase in earning potential after completing just 10 months of intensive study.
On a campus as large as NC State, many students may not have heard of the institute. But those who learn it discover an ideal path to becoming a data scientist. Nearly 300 Wolfpack undergraduates – from aerospace engineers to zoologists – have successfully completed the degree, representing 46 different majors and every college.
“A common question I hear is ‘Do I need to major in computer science or statistics to be successful in the program?’ “, said Christopher Healey, professor of computer science and longtime member of the faculty of the institute. “The answer is no.
In 2006, institute director Michael Rappa assembled a group of faculty from a dozen academic departments at six of NC State’s colleges. Their goal was to develop a professional master’s degree with an entirely new curriculum and enroll its first students within one year. Through a collaborative effort, they built the program lecture by lecture, with an emphasis on connecting classroom lessons to real-world issues.
The resulting degree merges multiple disciplines into a singular experience that immerses students in the subject. They learn to become data scientists by acquiring knowledge and applying it quickly and iteratively through daily engagement, consistent with NC State’s “Think and Do” philosophy. And the program is well suited to a diverse group of learners – everyone from recent graduates to PhDs, including those with several years of practical experience under their belts.
“That’s what I love most about teaching MSA students,” said institute faculty member and Ph.D. Andrea Villanes. in computer science, and herself an MSA graduate. “It’s an eclectic group, and they’re really motivated to learn.”
The MSA is designed to meet the ever-evolving skill set of data science. Students work in teams in a rapid sequence of three-semester modules covering 30 credit hours. An ambitious internship asks teams of students to tackle a difficult problem with a sponsor’s data. Institute students have completed 250 such projects with 128 major sponsors representing various organizations – from sports clubs to intelligence agencies – and some of the world’s biggest brands.
With its team-oriented format and mix of disciplines, the MSA is ideally suited to produce the type of graduates employers need. But technical chops alone are insufficient; students must master communication and teamwork skills – and apply ethical decision-making to everything they do. MSA graduates are able to tell a story that connects data analysis to actionable insights.
“There are many programs that can teach people the technical skills to navigate, clean, and analyze data,” said Val Schwartz, the institute’s admissions officer. “We opt for a more comprehensive approach. We focus on what companies want – and what they want are people who can do the job holistically. This means not only cleaning the data and creating patterns, but being able to communicate the results in a way that is relevant to the audience. Our faculty spends a lot of time talking with students about ethical data storytelling. »
In 2012, when data science was first announced as the next high-flying career, the institute was already an established leader in the field, with hundreds of graduates to its credit. This immediate success served as a model for dozens of similar degree programs, as curious professors from other institutions flocked to the institute for first-hand insight. More than 100 university delegations – including heads of departments, deans and university presidents – traveled from as far away as Australia to get a taste of the institute’s new approach.
Even today, the institute is a key destination for those looking to develop new programs in analytics and data science. What started at NC State with a few dozen intrepid students in 2007 has become the benchmark for the fastest growing field of graduate study in a generation. An estimated 20,000 students will graduate with master’s degrees in analytics and data science from US universities this year.
A growing group of employers rely on the institute as a primary source of data science talent. The placement season – known as the institute’s “March Madness” – attracts up to 150 employers, who register 1,500 interviews and make hundreds of job offers. This year, a third of the class received three or more offers. With these numbers, it’s easy to see why the institute has such a track record of placing data science professionals into meaningful and rewarding careers.
The program has proven to be a huge success for NC State.
The institute gets high marks from its students. An annual survey conducted by NC State’s Office of Institutional Strategy and Analysis reveals graduate satisfaction with their program experience, career outcomes, and the quality of education provided by faculty and staff. In each of the first four years of the survey, the institute recorded the highest level of student satisfaction at the university, with a response rate of nearly 100%.
“Looking back, the MSA turned out to be a huge success for NC State,” Rappa said. “Throughout its 15 years, the institute has demonstrated both resilience and dedication to deliver the highest quality education with remarkable consistency and unparalleled student outcomes. He looks towards a promising future with the same determination.