Business Analytics Department

Alumni Spotlight: Haley Hubbard


Haley Hubbard (’14),works at Vendor Registry in Knoxville, TN, as the director of business analytics. The majority of her work involves analytics including visualization, light analyses, A/B testing, development of company-wide KPIs, and customer segmentation. “Prior to earning a Master of Science in Business Analytics, I had earned a bachelors from UT in accounting and attended the University of Texas to obtain my masters in professional accounting,” Hubbard says. “After earning these accounting degrees, I worked in forensics services at PwC in New York for three years and Dallas for two.”

The majority of Hubbard’s work at PwC focused on white collar crime investigation. “This is where I discovered my love of disparate data analyses, “ she says. “I recognized that the wave of the future in almost every profession is to have strong analytics skills in addition to your initial focus and made the decision to return to school for another degree.”

Hubbard discusses her current project that intertwines with analytics: “Initially, we wanted to visualize the data to see what is going on in our environment. From there, we began testing many different scenarios and measuring the impact. For example, we have tested website layout, paths through our system, marketing content, subject lines, etc. Our company takes a scientific approach to decision making, opting for testing hypotheses to see which solution produces the desired result. We have used many sources of data including customer inputted, company generated, financial, email activity, and web traffic data for these analyses. Being a startup company, one of our challenges is not having much data for our analyses. This is a challenge we continue to fight. However, we have approached our data gathering with a forward thinking mindset considering the types of questions we would like to answer.

Her role with Vendor Registry has given Hubbard the opportunity to make strategic business decisions using analytics and see those decisions through from concept to execution. “I hope to continue to have these experiences as our company grows and to begin using some predictive modeling to answer some of our questions” she says. “My hopes for my career are to run an organization or department using a variety of skills but driven by data-based decisions.”


UT: So why did you choose the University of Tennessee?

Hubbard: When I realized that I needed to add more tools to my tool belt, I began researching what my next steps should be, whether within PwC or externally. I researched various degree programs and ultimately chose UT’s Master of Science in Business Analytics because of its focus on application of statistical methods in business. At the time, other programs focused heavily on statistical methods with no emphasis on business. This was the right choice for what I wanted to do. My degree has helped me in numerous ways, but I think the most important impact has been how to question data. Understanding the business need and knowing what data and in what form I need it has helped me to not only ask the questions but answer them as well.

UT: What is your favorite part of the MSBA program?

Hubbard: I have two favorite parts of the MSBA program. I enjoyed the teamwork demanded of the students and the involvement of the faculty. I knew coming into this program that I had many strengths but also many weaknesses that I needed to strengthen. What I learned was that all of my classmates had the same issue but with a variety of strengths. Forcing us to work as teams allowed us to learn from each other in addition to what we learned in the classroom. Specifically, my programming skills improved significantly by working with team members who knew more than I did. Additionally, the faculty’s interest in our education and success was a benefit I was not expecting. My classmates and I often found it helpful to work in the department because our faculty was easily accessible and would often come sit at tables with us to review our questions. The mixture of helping us and forcing us to help ourselves was balanced very well.




Student App Impacts the UTK Classroom


At the buzz of a text message, students are distracted as they look to their screens.
University of Tennessee students and faculty have seen it happen over and over — so many times that a class cellphone and sometimes even a laptop policy will typically be put in place at the beginning of the semester. “We all have our smartphones in class,” said Robbie Rauschert, a UT junior, “If I hear that tiny ding, it’s hard staying off, and I’m wondering, ‘Who’s texting me?’ It’s kind of addicting.”
But Rauschert is promising a new smartphone app called Pocket Points will provide students with extra incentive to stay off their phones during class. Rauschert began working as an intern for the company over the summer. The app works like this: students download the free app onto their phones and then open it once they are in a classroom. They then lock their phones. The longer a phone stays locked, the more points that student earns.
The points then translate to discounts at restaurants, stores and online retailers. And no, students can’t say they are in class but take a nap instead to cheat the system, Rauschert warned. The app uses GPS to pinpoint where students are, and academic buildings have been marked as places they can earn points. Classroom buildings and libraries count, but residence halls don’t, Rauschert said.
The app launched at UT on the first day of the fall semester and has about 1,000 downloads, he said. The app is offered at other colleges and universities around the country, he said. “If students use it as intended, it’s a great idea,” said Charles Cwiek, a distinguished lecturer in business analytics and statistics. When Rauschert, whose major is business analytics, first emailed faculty about the app, Cwiek said he was skeptical and wondered how it works. Also, if all phones are off, students might miss a UT emergency alert, he said. Cwiek said he’s in the minority of UT professors who don’t police use of cell phones and laptops in class as long as other students aren’t distracted.
“Students should be mature enough to pay attention,” he said, noting out-of-control texting and Facebook use could cost some of those students a job down the line.Yet Cwiek said the responsibility also falls on teachers to be active and engaging so students don’t want to check their phones. He said the app could be helpful to students who are trying to break the habit of checking their phones too much in class. Rauschert, who’s already earned enough points for a discount, calls the app a win-win-win for businesses, students and teachers.
He said the more students who use the app at one time, the more points they all earn. There is a competition by location for the students with the most minutes to earn extra points, he said. About a dozen businesses near UT are offering Pocket Points discounts, including Moe’s Southwest Grill and Insomnia Cookies, Rauschert said.

Faculty Spotlight: Haileab Hilafu

Hilafu1205x1714Dr. Halieab Hilafu has had quite the unique journey leading up to teaching at the University of Tennessee just two short years ago. He started his life in a remote village near Keren, Eritrea, and finished my studies through college there. Then, in the Fall of 2009, he came to the United States to attend graduate school at the University of Georgia. During his time at UGA,  he :

  1. Worked as a volunteer at the statistical consulting center
  2. Completed a summer internship with Johnson & Johnson
  3. Worked on an exciting dissertation to develop dimension reduction and variable selection methods for high-dimensional datasets (also referred to as “wide data”).

Hilafu chose the Business Analytics and Statistics Department at UT because it offers unique opportunities that a traditional Statistics department DOES NOT offer. The department has embraced contemporary challenges (and opportunities) of big data. It has aligned its resources to educate students to solve practical business problems with the aid of big data.  The faculty has the right mix of expertise in a multitude of relevant areas to analytics: statistical methodology, statistical learning, supply chain and optimization, and computational methods.

In his second year, Hilafu has focused his research on developing dimension reduction methods. Focusing on time series data with special application on predicting out-of-sample stoke price index. In coordination with Drew Schmidt, PhD Student, they have submitted a proposal to the National Science Foundation regarding a novel dimension reduction methods for large data sets.

Hilafu wants to be remembered for being there to lend a helping hand for people in need (personal or career), and professionally for a significant contribution to the literature of high-dimensional data analysis.

9 Causes of Data Misinterpretation, Ken Gilbert’s Insights

confusionData is misinterpreted more often than you might expect. Even with the best intentions, important variables may be omitted or a problem may be oversimplified or overcomplicated. Sometimes, organizations act on trends that are not what they seem. And even when two people view the same analytical result, they may interpret it differently.

“Statistics can tell you ‘this versus that.’ The real questions are, ‘Is the difference worth worrying about?’ and ‘Have we collected enough data to allow us to make a decision?” said Ken Gilbert, professor emeritus of the department of statistics, operations, and management at the University of Tennessee, in an interview.

It is entirely possible for business leaders to obsess about something that is statistically insignificant, or for data scientists to omit important variables, simply because they do not understand the entire context of the problem they are trying to solve. In short, the path to valuable insights can include a number of obstacles, some of which may not become apparent until after the fact.

Some individuals and groups take a top-down approach to data analysis, meaning that they focus on the business problem they are trying to solve and they make a point of identifying variables that have been relevant in the past in a same or similar context. Others take a bottom-up approach, meaning that they attempt to correlate variables with that which they are trying to improve (such as website conversions or sales). The danger of the latter approach is a high probability that some correlations are statistically significant but are an artifact of the way the data has been analyzed, versus being an accurate indicator of underlying relationships, Gilbert said.

Read More:

Published By: Information Week


Student Spolight: Miller Moore


Name: Miller Moore

Undergraduate University: University of Tennessee-Knoxville

Graduation Year (Undergraduate): 2009

Graduate Degree: Business Analytics

Graduation Year (Graduate): 2015

Internship Company: AT&T

Internship Position: Big Data Scientist Intern



Miller Moore has a diverse background in both degree path as well as career. Moore has served in the Navy and also holds another Masters degree from Pennsylvania State University in Nuclear Engineering. This summer he spent time in Georgia interning with AT&T as a Data Scientist Intern. His position required him to analyze equipment purchase orders for cost saving opportunities.  He used a wide variety of tools including: Oracle SQL, Python, R, Pig, and Hive. Although this summer was challenging, Moore exceeded expectations in both the technical and non-technical aspects of his assigned projects. Moore has also gained the respect of his classmates and teachers by demonstrating his strong technical abilities and as a result currently serves as one of eight program managers for the Capstone Experience class.

Moore states why he chose the University of Tennessee, “This program has a great culture and location.  Since this is a business program, the curriculum appropriately balances attributes desired for positions that require both technical and non-technical skills,” He truly values the programming and soft skills learned during our three semester curriculum. Moore hopes to follow the data scientist career path because it required creativity, business knowledge, technical and communication skills and above all, hard work.

Featured Alumni: Reed Hayes

Those of you who frequent websites, social media or have received other forms of communication from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, may have noticed a shift to include the Power T in all of our word marks. This was done as an effort to convey a greater cohesion among all campus units not just athletics. We gain strength and power when everyone works together.

A perfect example of the power of working together as a team can be seen in a recent relationship with Coca-Cola Refreshments and the Department of Business Analytics and Statistics. This relationship was started by Rob Carrico, in the development office, and Reed Hayes, a manager of strategic initiatives for Coca-Cola Refreshment.

Reed received his bachelor’s degree in supply chain management in 2010 from the Haslam College of Business. His first job after college was for Volkswagen Group of America as a Demand Planning Analyst. In 2011, Reed and his wife, Katherine Farrar, moved to Chattanooga, and he began his work with Coca-Cola Refreshments in January 2012 as an inventory planning manager. In his current role as a manager of strategic initiatives for the COLD market North American portfolio he was tasked with implementing a strategic project that increases customer prospecting and reduces customer churn by leveraging predictive analytics.

In the summer of 2014 Reed connected with Rob Carrico at an alumni event, and expressed a need for help in the area of business analytics. Carrico sought out our department, and through this connection several new opportunities have evolved benefitting both Reed’s work at Coca-Cola and the students and faculty in the Department of Business Analytics.

The MSBA students worked with Coca-Cola on one of their capstone projects, and Michel Ballings has been given access to large amounts of data to provide research on Cocoa-Cola’s customer analytics. These projects lead to another research opportunity for one of the marketing department’s faculty, and all signs point to a long-range partnership between Coca-Cola and the analytics department.

This fall Reed will leave Coca-Cola to pursue an MBA at MIT’s Sloan School of Management. After graduating from MIT, Reeds goals are to improve the quality of care for dementia patients and to help spread fiber optic internet cable to ensure America’s competitiveness in the digital age. As you can see, regardless of what you studied while on campus, you are a part of the Tennessee community and you add value to our name. We are proud to have Reed representing Tennessee and can’t wait to see what his future holds. The business analytics and statistics department is grateful to Reed for embodying what it means to be a Vol for life. Thank you Reed for all your support.

Featured Student: Jessica Tyler

Jessica Tyler is a second semester student in the MSBA program at The University of Tennessee.

Jessica Tyler is a second semester student in the MSBA program at The University of Tennessee.

Name: Jessica Tyler

Undergraduate University: Columbia University

Graduation Year (Undergraduate): 2013

Graduate Degree: Business Analytics

Graduation Year (Graduate): 2015

Internship Company: Catalist

Internship Position: Data Science Fellow

Two years ago, I came out of university with expertise in two incredibly different fields. One of these fields was Slavic Studies, and the other was Economics, a field that, while quantitative in nature, had by and large only been introduced to me in theoretical terms. When the time came to decide which career path I should pursue, I examined the current job market with its demand for data-savvy individuals, and recalled my experience in an introductory econometrics class (one of my favorite undergraduate courses). I realized that I wanted to pursue a career that involved analyzing data to allow companies to make sound business decisions; the best way to do this, given my background, was to apply to graduate programs in analytics. During the application process, one school—spoiler alert, the University of Tennessee— immediately stood out from the rest. UT’s Business Analytics master’s degree distinguished itself from the pack, not just because of the balance between quantitative skill-building and soft skills training, or because of the fact that we are given exposure to multiple analytics tools (R, SAS, SQL, Tableau, Excel, etc.) What truly made me convinced me that I belonged at UT were the conversations I had with the department personnel, faculty and students. It was only at the University of Tennessee that I felt the professors and staff really took an interest in my interests. At UT, I was treated as an individual, whose strengths are not just enumerated by a GRE score or a single application response. No other program particularly cared, for instance, about my work on two political campaigns following my graduation from college, or my experience as a former competitive figure skater; the MSBA program at the University of Tennessee did. To this day, I feel completely assured that the business analytics program at the University of Tennessee is not just able to impart the knowledge I need to succeed in the field of business analytics, but also to prepare me for a rewarding and intellectually satisfying career. Our program is not just superb in terms of its faculty and staff, but also in terms of my fellow students. I am continually in awe of the abilities of my peers, who come from a variety of educational backgrounds. It is probably because of this that they all bring important knowledge to the table every single day in our courses. The environment is certainly competitive, but above all, we find it important to help each other succeed. Having completed countless team projects, the quality of teamwork I have witnessed since starting the program is unparalleled. My experience with the MSBA program at UT, in terms of its faculty, staff and students, is absolutely a testament to its excellence. Anyone considering a career in business analytics should definitely apply.


Dr. Mary Leitnaker – Business Analytics Faculty Profile

Mary Leitnaker - Business Analytics and Statistics ProfessorDr. Mary Leitnaker arrived at the University of Tennessee in 1984 and was one of the first female professors in the college to reach full professorship.  In addition to her research and teaching responsibilities, Dr. Leitnaker has worked on many projects that have helped shape the Haslam College of Business as we know it today.

One of Leitnaker’s first projects was the development of a “Practical Strategies for Process Improvement” course, which taught process improvement and was a precursor for Black Belt training. It was also one of the first courses for what is now part of executive education training offered by Graduate and Executive Education in the Haslam College of Business.

After this project, she started the Institute for Statistical Engineering, which delivered large scale, on-site training programs to companies, including Pepsi International and Aera Energy.

In 2009, Mary took on one of her most daunting projects as the founding director of our Master’s in Business Analytics (MSBA) program.  With this change, our department stopped offering a traditional master’s degree in statistics and management science, and put our PhD on hold in order to put all of our “eggs in one basket.”  During Mary’s time as director, we saw the MSBA program grow substantially and receive a Top 20 ranking from “Information Week.”

Now that Mary has handed the role of director to Dr. Missie Bowers, she has begun to work more closely with Consolidated Nuclear Security at the Y-12 National Security Complex.  She has taken on a partial appointment with Y-12 with the goal of fostering a strong relationship between Y-12 and the Haslam College of Business— specifically in the areas of business analytics and supply chain.  The partnership has already generated several business analytics graduate assistantships, and she looks forward to more opportunities once the PhD program in Analytics is officially launched.

The Department of Business Analytics and Statistics and the Haslam College of Business are very proud of all the work Mary has done for the College and for the future female professors who wish to follow in her footsteps.




UT Professors Discuss What it Takes to Be a Top Data Analytics Graduate

Top Data Analytics GraduateOn top of having technical capabilities and real-world experience in a new and rapidly changing field, analysts need people skills and the ability to work in teams to succeed in the modern business world. In a recent article published in Informs’ newsletter OR/MS Today, Haslam professors Chuck Noon and Ken Gilbert discuss what it takes produce this quality of analytics graduate.

Although the demand for data analytics professionals is growing daily, businesses have high standards for the type of employees they want to fill these positions. Amy Buckner Chowdhry, CEO & co-founder of the Silicon Valley firm Answerlab, describes the graduates that her company wishes to hire as “unicorns,” i.e., mythical creatures that do not exist.

According to Noon and Gilbert, developing unicorns is not just about curriculum and industry exposure but depends greatly on recruiting the right students. Part of the selection process at the University of Tennessee is an applicant interview to help answer the following question: Would this person get hired for an industry position?

Noon and Gilbert go on to state that a successful business analytics program needs seven elements to matriculate the best students:

  1. Strong corporate relationships for placement, curriculum development and strengthening faculty research and teaching.
  2. A recruitment policy for both STEM and non-STEM majors that provides a path for both groups to a successful career in business analytics.
  3. Applicant screening that keeps the employer in mind.
  4. Hands-on business experiences for students throughout the program.
  5. A broader focus on business skills. Students should understand how analytics fits into the larger company goals.
  6. An emphasis on soft skills such as teamwork, leadership and communication.
  7. In-depth subject matter expertise across students’ chosen areas of focus.

Informs members can read the full article including details on some of UT’s curriculum strategy, here.

Business Analytics Course Commits to Improving the Community through Web Analytics

In a country so reliant upon and respectful of charitable organizations, it may be a surprise that nonprofit organizations struggle immensely to financially make ends meet.
Julie Ferrara, Lecturer and Business Analytics Forum Director in the University of Tennessee, Department of Business Analytics, has created a class to help nonprofits in the Knoxville, TN community. From a recent story in Data Informed, “In Knoxville, a city of about 183,000 in eastern Tennessee, marketing analytics are proving vital to nonprofits that are trying to communicate their work more effectively. Ferrara has developed a student-run program that uses analytics to support nonprofits in their mission to grow their presence. Google’s AdWords service is central to the concept. Nonprofits can apply to get up to $10,000 worth of AdWords advertising free, while students donate their time and apply analytics and marketing concepts covered in the classroom.”
This course is unique in that students learn concepts while working directly on client projects– something many students don’t get to experience until an internship. Jeremy Tate, a student in the course, was quoted in Nonprofit Technology News: “Running actual campaigns was a very effective method of learning the concepts of Google AdWords with the added benefit of working with nonprofits from the community. Marketing campaigns for nonprofits are often limited by resources, so I think the class was a great way to partner with the community.”
Students aren’t the only ones satisfied with the work coming from Ferrara’s course; the leaders of the nonprofit clients are as well. Students were able to increase ad impressions and click rates for the nonprofit clients. One nonprofit leader, Daniel Watson, executive director of The Restoration House, spoke to Affect Magazine, “I think it’s a great use of a university’s resources to have college students not only learn a real-world skill, but to provide a real-world benefit to the non-profit community at the same time,” he said. “It’s a great win-win, and one I hope more universities end up doing.”


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