Data Analytics and the Boston College MBA

All MBA students at Boston College are required to take three core data analytics courses in order to graduate from the program. In fact, data analytics coursework is a key component of the BC MBA curriculum: First, it trains students in hard skills, helping them gain basic knowledge of software like Tableau, and second, it provides students with broad, cross-functional perspectives, teaching them how to apply quantitative models to real-world management situations.

In the Q&A below, Dr. Pieter VanderWerf, associate professor of the practice in operations management at the Carroll School, and Jessica Poracky (MBA ’18), a management consultant at Gartner, talk about their experiences with data analytics at Boston College.

Dr. Pieter VanderWerf

Why does the BC MBA program require students to take data analytics courses to earn their MBA?

Pieter VanderWerf

Analytics is quickly becoming embedded into every function of business. It’s getting to the point that you encounter big data analytics no matter what your job is. Our students are finding that they go to interviews for positions with titles like “Market Specialist” or “Financial Manager” and are asked about their exposure to mathematical modeling. We’ve committed to a curriculum that would give all our MBAs a solid practical knowledge of all major aspects of analytics so that they can work effectively with the quantitative specialists as well as stand out among job candidates.

What are the most valuable skills students come away with from the data analytics courses you teach?

I think it’s understanding why the math and data management are done as they are. It’s important to know the mechanics, but that only allows you to work on problems you have seen before. It’s the manager that understands the reasons behind the mechanics who can participate effectively in new projects. It’s the manager that understands the methods who sees what the results of a model mean for the actual running of the business and can serve as the interpreter between the quantitative people and the businesspeople.

What do you enjoy most about teaching these courses?

The students who approach me at the end of the semester and say, “I never really thought I was much of a math person, but I get this stuff.” And they do.

Jessica Poracky, MBA ’18

How have the data analytics courses influenced your career path?

Jessica Poracky

One of the reasons I decided to come to BC was to take advantage of the data analytics component of the core curriculum, as I have always planned to focus my MBA on business analytics. I have three years of pre-MBA work experience in pharmaceutical advertising and knew that I needed to strengthen my data and quantitative analysis skills to make a pivot into consulting, my desired career path. The analytical thinking and data software training we received in the core courses definitely helped me make a successful career pivot [as a consultant at Gartner].

What has been your favorite project from the data analytics courses you have taken?

I loved the Management Science class—an elective course. In this class, we designed sophisticated financial and optimization models to perform parameter analyses and gain insights into real business problems. Over the course of the semester, my approaches to designing a model, in terms of both model complexity and clarity, significantly improved. I was able to apply these new skills to my other classes at BC as well as to a fall internship with Partners HealthCare.

Why are these courses essential to a well-rounded business education?

These classes are essential because data is everywhere—we’ve reached a point where companies rely on data to shape key business strategies and decisions. Anyone looking to add significant value to their organization should be able to think critically about data and practically articulate its impacts.