You may never have heard of Kennesaw State University, unless you hail from the region around Georgia, its home state, or you have been researching innovative graduate-level statistics programs. Situated about 20 miles outside Atlanta, this school has been garnering attention locally, regionally, and increasingly farther afield for the caliber of its statistics graduates. It's definitely grown into a program to watch from its beginnings in 2006.
It's not a place where Jennifer Lewis Priestley, the recipient of the 2012 SAS Distinguished Professor Award for her efforts in educating and preparing students for careers in statistical analysis and a guest for tomorrow's AllAnalytics.com Instant E-Chat, envisioned herself. But she has been there for eight years -- and is loving it.
"I live in walking distance from Emory, in downtown Atlanta. I had visions of Georgia State but decided to drive the 22 miles to Kennesaw State for an interview," Priestley told us in a recent call. "I really didn't want it to work, because it was inconvenient for me. But once there, I was blown away by the forward thinking, the momentum, and the wanting to teach stats differently."
Kennesaw State, she found, was even "consciously looking for people who had career experience," rather than career academics.
Looking for a job in academics wasn't originally part of Priestley's grand plan. But after 11 years in the business world, mostly working for or in consumer credit card operations, she said she was ready for a change. For the last few years of that career, Priestley had been living in London but was constantly on the road between there, Edinburgh, and San Francisco. Back home in Georgia, she decided to get a PhD, and she chose statistics as her course of study. (She already had an MBA.)
"I knew I needed a career change, and I considered everything from philosophy to English literature. But my husband told me it'd be a shame to lose my career experience… and I did like that idea," she said.
"Upon reflection, I realized I used statistics every day in my job in some form. But my experiences with statistics at universities were very poor. They followed the traditional model of teaching stats -- here's the form, memorize it, and plug these numbers in, and that's how we're going to do it… It's a painful but necessary process of going through calculus-based derivations."
However, the process isn't sufficient. "You're not really training people to be statisticians when you teach that way. None of the major universities in the metro Atlanta area were training students to be applied statisticians."
What Priestley (and Kennesaw State) wanted was to develop students who would be able to walk into a business environment the day after graduation, take a dataset, conduct statistical analysis on it, and translate the results into meaning for the business. In other words, she wanted to train students to apply statistics like a practitioner.
Given that SAS is the "gold standard" among statisticians, Kennesaw State statistics students learn the software. "Ultimately, if you want to market yourself as somebody who is knowledgeable in statistical analysis and translating datasets into meaningful information, you need to know SAS. So we integrate SAS into everything we do."
You can learn more from Priestley about the Kennesaw State program and teaching students to become practicing statisticians from Day 1 during the live e-chat tomorrow, Friday, June 1, at 10:00 a.m. ET. Simply log in to the site, click on this link, and then jump into the conversation.
In the meantime, consider this: Priestley said the most fulfilling part of being on the Kennesaw State faculty and at the university is that, in a time when you can't open the paper or turn on the TV without hearing or reading about the problems graduates are having finding jobs, its graduate-level stats program has a 0 percent unemployment rate.
"When students come into this program, we're ensuring that have highly valuable, highly desirable skills," she told us. Listen in on what else Priestley has to say on analytics and education in this video shot at the recent SAS Global Forum:
LEADERS FROM THE BUSINESS AND IT COMMUNITIES DUEL OVER CRITICAL TECHNOLOGY ISSUES
The Current Discussion
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