Wharton Beefs Up its Data Analytics Offerings After a $15 Million Donation

Wharton Beefs Up its Data Analytics Offerings After a $15 Million Donation main image

11 years ago, the University of Pennsylvania’s The Wharton School was among the pioneers highlighting the emergence of big data and the need for future leaders to understand data analytics. At the time, it established a center to study the sector. While Wharton’s efforts in this area of study was already quite active, it recently received a major boost thanks to an anonymous $15 million gift. 

Concurrent with this donation, the school is constructing a new building to house the statistics department, the related center and relevant efforts, which are now known collectively as Analytics at Wharton. In addition, it establishes the Data Science and Business Analytics Fund aimed at aligning data-driven programs, expanding cutting-edge analytical tools, exploring big data in new areas, and continuing relevant research. 

“This funding will amp up on steroids all the things we’re already doing and help us launch new initiatives,” says Eric T. Bradlow, the chairperson of the Marketing Department who has been named vice dean for Analytics as a result of the donation.

Wharton Dean Geoffrey Garrett made data analytics a top priority when fundraising for the Wharton School’s $1 billion “More Than Ever” campaign, which is part of the “Power of Penn” fundraising effort.

Bradlow says, “The hope always was to find donor support for a building and fund around Analytics at Wharton. We cultivated these efforts to plant a massive flag in this area of study.”

Future careers 

Certainly, data analytics seems essential to the future of work. In recent years, technological advances have made it easier than ever to gather, attain, and assess massive amounts of data.

“Most businesses want to make decisions with as much information as possible,” says Bradlow. “Large-scale computing power has democratized data analytics, which is no longer siloed in one department. It’s in every department." 

As a result, business schools have an obligation to students, recruiters, and society at large to better understand how to best use data and share that education. The day will come when this is second nature to business education, says Bradlow.

“Communication, writing, and high EQ will never go away,” he adds. “Data analytics will be the same. It’s a skill everyone will have to have in some capacity.”

Focus on analytics

In the meantime, Wharton is planning to expand its offerings related to analytics, thanks to this fund. The plan, according to a press release announcing the gift, is to “use sophisticated tools to solve challenges for business and society today.” Also, five existing programs – Customer Analytics, Penn Wharton Budget Model, People Analytics, Wharton Neuroscience, and Wharton Research Data Services – will fall under the umbrella of Analytics at Wharton and benefit from enhancements.

This could mean more courses, speakers, events, and research. Bradlow anticipates drawing upon the center’s mission to provide students with experiential learning opportunities. He expects to team up with real world businesses to solve real world problems, he says. In fact, many colleagues have already discussed creating new content for courses and developing special projects and assignments.

International opportunities will arise as well, says Bradlow. For instance, he anticipates expanding upon Analytics at Wharton conferences, which have already taken place in Canada, England, and China. Other expansion plans also include global modular courses, online content related to global businesses, and partnerships with international companies that require the help of students. Also, Analytics at Wharton will provide more written cases, unique for their inclusion of data sets and code.

Creating opportunities

One of Bradlow’s hopes is to expand data analytics to atypical areas, such as sports and entertainment, healthcare, medicine, network science, and media. Most importantly, Analytics at Wharton, with this new fund, promises to create opportunities as a result of “unprecedented volumes of digital, numerical, text-based data,” according to the press release.

All these efforts will build upon the foundation Wharton has already established. The school boasts more than 47 analytics courses and more than 18 events and conferences. Students have shown great interest in the subject, undoubtedly as a result of the related skills shortage and resulting job openings. More than 1,000 students participate in the undergraduate and MBA student analytics clubs, and 14 percent of MBAs major in business analytics. The numbers will probably only grow.

Ultimately, Bradlow and his colleagues are aiming to teach future business leaders studying data analytics how to turn raw data into something actionable, so they can execute more thoughtful strategies and have greater impact in more than just business. In fact, he says, he’d like to see them use these skills to tackle some of society’s great challenges.

“My hope is data science can become an engine for our students,” says Bradlow, “to go out and do well and do good in the world.”     

Francesca Di Meglio

Francesca Di Meglio has written about higher education for two decades. She covered business schools and all aspects of management education for what became Bloomberg Businessweek from May 2004 to December 2013. Di Meglio was the consultant editor for the book Admitted: An Interactive Workbook for Getting into a Top MBA Program (85 Broads Publishing, 2011), which was written by admissions consultant Betsy Massar. In addition, she is a family travel and parenting blogger at the Italian Mamma website

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