Chicago school to offer degree in predicting the future

With help from IBM, DePaul University will offer the nation’s first master's degree in predictive analysis

The Chicago-based DePaul University will offer what it says is the nation's first master's degree in predictive analysis, the school announced on Wednesday in conjunction with IBM, which will provide resources for the program.

"We realized there was a need to create a program that prepared students in careers in data analytics and business intelligence," said Raffaella Settimi, an associate professor at DePaul's College of Computing and Digital Media, who helped craft the program.

"A lot of the professionals who work in these fields have a variety of backgrounds, but there really isn't a program dedicated to data analytics," Settimi said.

The program aims to teach students the technical skills to do computer-based data mining, including advanced data analysis and the ability to handle large data sets. The degree will require students to take marketing courses as well, which should help them better match their data analysis to the needs of end users.

"It's not a theoretical statistics degree. It will focus on hands-on use of applications," she said, adding that students will learn about Web analytics, Web data mining, Monte Carlo methods, image processing and database management.

Although this degree may be the first to be offered in predictive analytics, an increasing number of other U.S. colleges and universities are offering advanced degrees or certificates in data mining, including Central Connecticut State University, the University of Central Florida, and Stanford University.

Predictive analytics is a subset of data mining, explained Settimi. "Predictive analytics is one step of data mining. It is the concluding step, where you use data-analysis tools to extract values or models that will help make business decisions," she said.

Businesses located near DePaul seem to be seeking more workers who possess such analytics skills. About 65 percent of Illinois business leaders must fill jobs openings dealing with business intelligence and analytics, according to a study conducted in April by the Illinois Technology Association and CompTIA. The businesses also expressed concern in the survey that workers with such skills may not be available.

The school already offers a number of courses related to this field, in its computer science, business and marketing departments. The program, which will kick off in September, will offer about 30 courses to choose from.

Students with undergraduate degrees in either computer science, information technology, mathematics or business would be best-suited for the program, Settimi said.

For its part, IBM has offered to help the program's professors better understand how to use predictive analytics and data-mining software and techniques to solve business challenges. It will also donate software and datasets to the program.

The school, in partnership with IBM, is also opening a research center on campus, the Center for Data Mining and Predictive Analytics. The center will focus on applying data-mining techniques across specific disciplines such as health care, energy, education, transportation and public service. The school's School of Computing and the Department of Marketing departments will also help run the center.

One of the requirements of the program is that students will have to work on an actual data-mining project, either through an internship or at the research center.

"Students will gain the practical experience so necessary in this job market," Settimi said.

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