Business Analytics Department

Alumni Spotlight: Patricia Hinton

P1040967 (1)Patricia Hinton (MS Statistics ’81) started her college career as an anthropology major at UT Knoxville, earning a bachelor’s degree in 1973 and a master’s in 1975. She took a position as a research assistant in the Center for Human Growth and Development at the University of Michigan and worked there for four years—until her growing love for statistics brought her back to the Haslam College of Business.

“I did a lot of data analysis in my job at the University of Michigan, looking at familial correlations in weight, height, skinfold thickness and blood pressure in the federal Health and Nutrition Examination Survey databases, as well as in a local longitudinal study,” she says. “I got really interested in data analysis methods and tools, so I came back to UT and earned a master’s of science in statistics in 1981.” Hinton then returned to the University of Michigan, where she worked as a research associate, again focusing on public health questions, before moving to Dallas and landing a job at the American Heart Association’s National Center in 1983.

Hinton started out as a biostatistician at the organization, in its Planning and Evaluation Division. “My first project was to conduct a survey of U.S. physicians to better understand how they managed patients with congestive heart failure,” she says. “At the time, there were some new medications available as well as the traditional approach, so it was very interesting to see what doctors were choosing at that point.” Hinton and her coworkers analyzed the responses and published articles based on the results.

A few years later, Hinton was promoted to lead the staff group responsible for assessing the impact of AHA programs.  She and her team evaluated direct mail campaigns and new AHA worksite and school site programs, using statistical analysis to decide how well these strategies were working to enhance revenue or to change awareness or behavior.

In 1987, she moved to the Division of Research Administration. “I worked in that department for many years, first as an evaluation consultant, and then as director of the division, which oversaw all the research program activities for the AHA,” she says. “The association funds several thousand cardiovascular and stroke researchers in the U.S., and our responsibilities included advertising the availability of funding, receiving and organizing the peer review of applications, notifying awardees, and monitoring their progress and expenditures throughout their support from the AHA.  We also evaluated the impact of AHA funding on the careers and scientific productivity of those whom we funded.”

Before her retirement in 2012, Hinton also participated firsthand in the application of technology to the research funding process.  “I coordinated the development of increasingly sophisticated and web-based research management systems during my tenure in Research Administration, ultimately achieving a virtually paperless process,” she explains. “The AHA mission is to build healthier lives free of cardiovascular diseases and stroke. A career highlight was using my statistical and data analysis training to describe the AHA applicant and awardee pool and measure the impact of the AHA’s research funding in support of the mission.”

Analytics is essential in the nonprofit sector, according to Hinton, who still works part-time for the AHA. “No matter what you want to do, you need to be able to measure the impact of your actions,” she says. “If you decide you want to make your organization better known to the public, you must measure public awareness before and after your efforts. Similarly, if you want to understand whether a new program you’ve created is changing behavior, you need to be able to measure that effectively.”

Sports Analytics Club Attends Major Conference at MIT

MIT image-editedOn March 11–12, 2016, the fledgling sports analytics club at the Haslam College of Business traveled to Boston, Massachusetts to attend the tenth annual MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference. Missie Bowers, the club’s faculty advisor, accompanied eleven master’s in business analytics students to the event, where they participated in a case study competition and a range of sports analytics presentations and workshops.

“It’s a really great conference,” Bowers says. “They have panel sessions with famous sports figures, athletes, coaches, analysts, and announcers.” Instructional workshops and research presentations were also offered at the conference, covering a wide range of topics. “For example, one presenter discussed whether it’s mathematically possible for a player to have a temporary ‘hot hand’ in sports,” says Bowers. “Another talked about how NBA game scheduling is now being done professionally using an optimization algorithm, taking into account constraints such as home games, away games, and travel for each team.”

The conference covered a wide range of sports, Bowers says, so there were topics of interest for everyone. “There were representatives from major league baseball, football, and the NBA—but also soccer, NASCAR, and tennis,” she says.

MSBA student Tyler Berlin, who founded the sports analytics club at the Haslam College last year, was thrilled at the chance to attend the conference. “The trip was unlike any other experience I’ve had before,” he says. “It was both entertaining and extremely enlightening to understand where the industry is going as far as sports analytics.”

The conference’s success reflects a growing interest in the sports analytics field, Berlin says. “This event started out in a classroom at MIT ten years ago, and this year more than 3500 people attended. It’s obviously an area where there’s growing interest.”

Interest in sports analytics is also emerging at UT Knoxville. Berlin is graduating from the MSBA program this fall, but he hopes the club he started will continue to flourish. “I’m going to visit the new MSBA class’s orientation and recruit some new members,” he says. “We’d love to get some undergrads involved as well. We want to go deeper, looking into models that professional sports analysts are putting out there to see if we understand them—or even create our own.”

“I think the club will continue to grow,” Bowers predicts. “There are lots of folks interested in sports analytics, especially at UT.”

MSBA Capstone Course

The capstone course is a tremendous strength of the Master’s of Science in Business Analytics program at the Haslam College of Business, giving students exciting hands-on experience working with real companies to solve real problems. With plenty of support from faculty advisors, students in the capstone course have the opportunity to analyze data and tackle problems for major corporations such as Coca-Cola, Delta Air Lines and HanesBrands.

How does the course work? “We break the students into teams of three or four, and pick one person to be the project manager, just as if they were on a team out there in the real world,” says Melissa Bowers, Beaman Professor of Business. “We choose the teams based on the skill sets of the students and the needs of the company.”

The project manager in each group must make sure the project moves forward, stay in constant contact with the capstone partner contact at the company, and schedule milestone events and biweekly conference calls. “Students check in with the corporate partner frequently so they can have an opportunity to answer questions and work through issues,” says Bowers. “Each project takes about fifteen weeks, the length of a semester.”

Bowers and other faculty members go through a careful process to select data analytics projects that fit students’ skills. “We contact a number of organizations, many of them Fortune 500, to participate as capstone companies,” Bowers says. “If they agree, we ask for problems or issues they are currently facing related to analytics and work with them to settle on a project idea.”

Each student team has its own faculty mentor, who travels with them to the company’s headquarters early in the course. “We meet with VP-level senior managers to introduce students to the project,” Bowers says. “It’s an opportunity for students to see the company firsthand—for example, one of the projects we did this past fall was with Delta Air Lines, and we did a visit to the airport coordination center, a Delta tower at the airport in Atlanta.”

Sean Willems, Haslam Chair in Supply Chain Analytics, teaches the large-group class meetings involving all the student teams. “Some teams get the data faster than other teams, or a big insight first, but they’re all going to get to the same point eventually,” Willems says. “My job is to show the common themes that run across the projects. It’s incredibly fun for me.”


Willems enjoys witnessing the students’ enthusiasm at the beginning of each project. “They’re chomping at the bit to go apply what they’re learning, and this is the first real opportunity they have,” he says. “It’s a safe environment, they can do it but there’s a lot of structure, and the project manager on the company side has been well selected. I don’t think there is any doubt that the capstone experience is the best part of our program. It’s a jewel for the students.”

Faculty Spotlight: Wenjun Zhou

WenjunAfter earning her undergraduate degree in China, Wenjun Zhou traveled to the United States to pursue her master’s at the University of Michigan. She went on to earn a PhD in management from Rutgers University in 2011. “Then I received an offer from the University of Tennessee and had a good experience visiting the campus,” Wenjun says. “So I decided to come.”

Wenjun is currently an assistant professor in the Department of Business Analytics & Statistics. Her teaching and research interests focus on data mining. “I teach graduate level data mining and text mining courses,” Wenjun says. “This year I am also teaching an undergraduate senior level data mining class, and we are developing an advanced version of the course for PhD students starting next year.”

Correlation computing is a further focus of Wenjun’s research. “One application is to use the correlation to make recommendations for online purchases,” she says. “For example, when you’re buying something online, a website will make suggestions based on similar items other consumers have purchased.” Creating programs that can compute these correlating products quickly is a challenge for businesses, Wenjun says. “Computing efficiency is a critical goal we want to achieve,” she explains. “How we measure a correlation is another aspect of the challenge.”

Some of Wenjun’s recent research on peer-to-peer lending was published in the European Journal of Operational Research (EJOR) in 2016. “This type of lending is normally based on an internet web platform where users apply for small loans up to $20,000,” Wenjun explains. “They have to specify their background, how they plan to use the loan, the maximum interest they want to pay, and how they plan to pay it back.” Then, private investors browse the listings. “It’s a lot more efficient than traditional financial institutions,” says Wenjun. “Borrowers get lower interest and investors get better return, but they have to be really selective. We studied how investors can assess the risk for the individual loans out there based on similar loans in the past.”

In the overwhelming world of big data, Wenjun sees a need for practical focus. “A lot of new discoveries happen when you really understand the domain, so you need to know what’s meaningful in practice in order to better motivate your research and develop a solution that’s going to be used,” she says. “It’s an integration of theory and practice.”

Business Analytics Student: Josh McMillan

Josh McMillan headshotGraduation Year (Graduate): 2016

Internships: Ferguson Enterprises, PYA Analytics, and Pyxl, Inc.

A senior majoring in business analytics with a marketing concentration, Josh McMillan has sharpened his real-world skills with three internships during his time at the Haslam College of Business. The first was at Ferguson Enterprises, a wholesale plumbing and HVAC company, where he worked in operations. “The next was with PYA Analytics, a software development and analytical consulting firm working with more technically-advanced analytics,” McMillan says. “Most recently, I interned at Pyxl, Inc., a digital marketing consulting firm working to improve the use of insights in client reporting.”

Hands-on experience enhanced his education, but McMillan says his on-campus learning gave him the ability to thrive in a real business environment. “This major prepares students in three critical areas needed to be an effective business analyst—business knowledge, communication skills, and technical skills,” he says. “I’ve gained a holistic picture of business, the ability to effectively communicate technically advanced findings with people who have limited knowledge in analytics, and a foundation in advanced technical skills.”

A Knoxville native, McMillan says UT was a natural choice for his undergraduate education. “I have always loved UT and have dreamt of going here my whole life,” he says. “I was unsure of what career path I wanted to take, and UT was able to give me a variety of paths to choose from.”

He chose business analytics because of its broad range of applications. “Analytics can be used in any field of work, in any department of a business, to help processes become more efficient and to increase profits,” McMillan says. “As a people-oriented person, I want to work more on the front end of analytics—communicating with people on the back end of analytical projects and relaying their work to people who wouldn’t otherwise understand, developing strategies for analytical initiatives, and being the creative piece for figuring out ways to grow the company and be innovative.”

McMillan currently serves as president of the Business Analytics Society at UTK (BAS), an undergraduate organization. “We’re here to help students with the transition from college to the real business world,” he says. “We provide information and advice about things they need to know and do as they enter the world of analytics.” During McMillan’s time as president, BAS membership increased by 50 percent and the group hosted a number of popular events.

Faculty Spotlight: Sean Willems

Swillems123x175Sean Willems joined the Haslam faculty in 2015 as the Haslam Chair in Supply Chain Analytics. Before he landed at UT, Willems served as an associate professor of operations and technology management at Boston University. While he was there, he started his own software company, Optiant, a provider of multi-echelon inventory optimization tools.

Because of his entrepreneurial experience, Willems brings a wealth of knowledge to his position at UT. He currently teaches the capstone course for MSBA students, a hands-on learning experience that allows participants to tackle real business analytics problems. “It’s an amazing program, and very much a jewel for the students,” Willems says. “It lets them apply what they learned in class and really put those theories in practice.”

While lending his oversight to students, Willems thoroughly enjoys the process. “It’s an incredibly fun job for me,” he says. “I get to see all the projects and work with all the students, yet they have other infrastructure in the form of faculty members who are doing a lot of the heavy lifting with the actual content. We fully resource this program to its maximum extent.”

Willems earned a bachelor’s in decision sciences from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School and a master’s in operations research and a doctorate in operations management from MIT. His research interests include developing tactical decision support tools to optimize supply chain decisions. Willems was excited to join the faculty at the Haslam College of Business, with its strong supply chain and business analytics programs.

“I feel very fortunate and excited to be here,” he says. “There’s just an incredible opportunity here because there’s so much infrastructure that we’ve built around supply chain, which is the area where I really work in, so it’s a great fit.”

Alumni Spotlight: Matt Horton

Matt Horton headshotMatt Horton received his undergraduate degree from the Haslam College of Business in 2001. “Back then, it was the Department of Statistics,” he recalls. “Had the current MSBA program existed, I probably would have stayed around to get my master’s.

Instead, Horton struck out into the world around the time the Internet bubble burst. “Jobs were not plentiful, but I found one in the foreign trade division at the U.S. Census Bureau in Washington, D.C.,” Horton says. “We monitored the exports and imports out of actual shipping ports, and how tax dollars are distributed.”

About a year later, Horton moved to Connecticut and worked with an affinity marketing company. “That’s when I started understanding statistical models and how to use them in the real world,” he says. “I got excited because you can do so much with analytics.”

Horton then took a consulting job at Accenture Marketing Sciences, where he used analytics to help Fortune 500 companies quantify return on investment on their marketing activities. A few years later, he decided to pursue a master’s in applied statistics from Cornell University.

“Right out of grad school in 2006, I went back into consulting for a company called Rosetta, a small boutique firm,” Horton says. “Companies generally break up their customer groups by demographics, but Rosetta says it’s more about the way people behave versus what they look like, so we did a lot of survey-based analytics.”

A few years later, Horton learned of a job opening at Major League Baseball’s website, “It’s the online arm of major league baseball, and was started in 2000,” Horton says. “We’re owned equally by each team.”

Nine years later, Horton serves as the advanced analytics senior manager at “Most people think of baseball analytics on the player side, but I came in on the business side,” he says. “We’re here to help the clubs in any way they would like. Some it’s email marketing, but for others, we’re optimizing season ticket sales campaigns.”

Because the 30 teams are located in various parts of the country, Horton says his role has lots of variety. “They all do business differently because their markets are very different—to sell a baseball ticket in New York City is completely different than selling one in Wisconsin.”

To help him address the variety of issues facing the teams, Horton recalls what he learned as an undergraduate at the Haslam College of Business. “Real data is messy,” he says. “You’re not going to always end up with a perfect report, so you have to think about things critically.”

Business Analytics Student: Tyler Berlin

Undergraduate University: University of TennesseeTylerBerlin headshot

Graduation Year (Graduate): 2016

Internship Company: Regal Entertainment Inc.

A lifetime Vols fan from Nashville, Tyler Berlin felt it a natural choice to attend the University of Tennessee. He earned an undergraduate degree in supply chain management and decided to pursue a master’s. “I applied for a few programs, but Haslam’s master’s of science in business analytics program was up on my list,” he says. “I really wanted to refine my technical skills.”

Berlin says the program has been a great place to do that. “The combination of hard and soft skills is definitely unique,” he says. “In many programs, you only get one or the other.” He’s appreciative of the support he and other students receive from faculty members. “They’re so knowledgeable and helpful, and they have professional relationships, so they can help with job searches, interviews and job fairs.”

As an MSBA student, Berlin serves as a graduate assistant for the office of first year studies. “I’m actually in charge of data and assessment,” he says. “We have a couple of different programs on campus dealing with first year students, whether it’s freshman, transfers or bridge students from local community college.”

This summer, Berlin will assume an internship in the business analytics department at Regal Entertainment Inc. in Knoxville. He’s not sure exactly what his role will be, but he’s excited to start. “I love problem solving,” he says. “I’m not exactly sure which job route I want to take after graduation—maybe consulting or an in-house analytics position, eventually getting up to the management level.”

In the fall 2015 semester, he and several MSBA classmates started a sports analytics club that’s open to both graduate and undergraduate students. Currently, the club boasts around 20 members. “Eleven of us will attend a sports analytics conference hosted by MIT over spring break,” he says. “It will be a great experience. I’m passionate about sports, so this brings together two things I love.”

New Big Data Course


The Department of Business Analytics and Statistics introduced a cutting-edge course in big data this spring for its MSBA students. Co-taught by Dr. Russell Zaretzki and industry experts from Oak Ridge National Laboratory and a national consulting firm, the course focuses on giving students a working knowledge of big data tools such as Hadoop, Spark and NoSQL databases.

Students will explore the possibilities of data mining, evaluating huge information sets and going to the cloud level to analyze the data. “They won’t be coming out of the class as experts, as that takes quite some time,” says Zaretzki, “but they will become familiar with the tools, know their purposes and how they’re used, and be able to move forward quickly in the future.”

To create the highest potential for relevant learning, the department decided to hire adjunct industry experts to co-teach the course. “Knoxville has a lot of expertise in big data and computing,” Zaretzki says. “We’re using experts from both the industry and ORNL to help teach the class. Having them on board will help students gain hands-on experience using these big data systems.”

One of the instructors, Dr. Byung H. Park, works on supercomputing teams at ORNL, using analytics to understand system performance. “The computers are so huge, they spit out all kinds of information,” Zaretzki explains. “Park uses these big data tools to understand what those computers are doing and if they’re performing correctly.”

Dr. Thilina Gunarathne, specialist director, data science and engineering at KPMG, is the other industry expert.  Gunarathne manages a large Hadoop infrastructure for big data analytics and supports some critical big data projects.

Drew Schmidt, a graduate research assistant in UT’s Department of Business Analytics and Statistics and an expert in the intersection of mathematics, statistics, and high performance computing, will also assist Zaretzki with the course.

“This course is pushing us forward,” Zaretzki says. “The idea is to bring students the next level of computing skills compared to most of our previous analytics courses. We’re positioned between business analytics and computer science—it’s much more hands-on and hard-core, and the tools aren’t as user-friendly, but people working in big data today have to be able to work in this less user-friendly, more expert environment.”


Alumni Spotlight: Robert Woolsey

Robert WoolseyAfter a successful internship at Home Depot, Robert Woolsey (MSBA ’12) landed a job with the home improvement giant after graduation. “I was a senior analyst in inventory solutions for about a year and a half,” Woolsey says. “Essentially, we were working on trying to bring some optimization to the import side of the organization – tweaking our safety stock logic, the way that we prioritized containers, and how we measured and managed forecast accuracy.”

In 2014, Woolsey became a manager in inventory analytics, allowing him freedom to pursue his interests and strengths. “It was very successful, and we got a lot of things done,” he says. “I developed an algorithm for how we should set inventory levels for our ‘job lot’ SKUs – items with really lumpy sales. We also changed the logic behind our stores’ safety stock targets and saw a significant boost to Home Depot’s in-stock percentage.”

Although he was happy in his role at Home Depot, Woolsey couldn’t resist the offer he received in late 2015 to become a senior manager of inventory analytics at HD Supply, one of the largest industrial distributors in North America. “They’re just starting a very transformational reboot of their entire supply chain, especially within their inventory function,” Woolsey says. “We’re completely changing the way the supply chain is managed, and everything is on the table. We’re overhauling the systems, reporting, and logic currently in place to create a best in class supply chain. It’s exciting—similar to working for a startup, but you’re a Fortune 500 company.”

Woolsey says the communication skills he learned during his time in the MSBA program at UT have proven invaluable in his career. “All our project-based work was done as if we were presenting it to a CEO,” he says. “We learned to distill it in a way that laypeople can understand. That distinguishes UT’s MSBA grads from people who are just good with numbers from those people who move up in a company.”

As his career progresses, Woolsey plans to meet every challenge head-on. “I’m trying to keep moving up the ladder and gaining more responsibility,” he says. “The higher you go, the more you can get done. I really like working on challenging problems, and there’s no shortage of them in supply chain.”

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