When the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted summer internship plans for some Maryland Smith graduate students, faculty leaders of the Smith Analytics Consortium turned to one of their closest corporate allies, Deloitte.
The multinational professional services giant quickly pulled together a month-long summer data science workshop that had students learning how to sift through immense amounts of data to tackle a big real-world question: Across the US, what was citizen sentiment at the onset of the pandemic?
Maryland Smith students worked closely with Deloitte consultants to analyze pandemic-related posts on Twitter and other social media platforms. Deloitte experts conducted weekly virtual workshops to teach students how to use natural language processing technology to analyze unstructured data, a business problem the firm often takes on for clients.
The competitive workshop drew nearly 200 applicants, with 50 students selected to participate – a mix of full-time MBA students and students in the Business Analytics, Information Systems and Marketing Analytics specialty master’s programs. They worked in teams of four to cull through Tweets and other posts, using the sentiment analysis skills and open-source software tools they learned in the workshops. Each team worked with advisors from Deloitte, meeting weekly via Zoom to discuss techniques and findings. Then teams submitted a final report to Deloitte and Maryland Smith faculty leaders to finish out the workshop.
“This was fantastic because it addressed something that’s in all of our lives and gave students a chance to build or enrich their existing skillsets in natural language processing,” says Wedad Elmaghraby, professor of operations management and management science and co-director of the Smith Analytics Consortium. “Offering students these opportunities to start to flex their muscles with their acquired skills in these real-problem settings, that’s how we can deliver a lot of value to our students to complement what’s happening in the classroom.”
That’s why Deloitte wanted to get involved, says Connor Welch, a consultant at Deloitte, a Smith Analytics Consortium member, and the team lead for the data science workshop.
“We really hoped not only that students would be learning hot skills that would make them marketable when applying for jobs, but would also be feeling empowered in the current situation we are in with the COVID-19 pandemic and really being able to provide actionable best-practices,” says Welch.
And the students delivered, he says.
“Across the board, the students were able to take what we gave them and run with it,” says Welch. “It provided a good parallel to what you’d get in an internship: Getting an open-ended problem, figuring out how to approach it, doing the analysis on it and providing an output.”
Max Cutler, dual-degree MBA and MS Information Systems ’21, says the hands-on work with such a large dataset and all the use-case and cost-benefit analysis discussions they had with Deloitte were invaluable.
“Working with a company like Deloitte and having them talk to us about that experience is very helpful in thinking about the kind of conversations you’d want to have with an employer,” he says.
“The biggest takeaway from this workshop was the experience dealing with data in the real business world,” says Xichen Wei, MS Marketing Analytics Dec. ’20, who participated in the program and worked with Cutler to help organize the program. Plus, he says, there was the access to Deloitte.
“This was not just a learning opportunity through the workshops, it was also a great opportunity to network with different Deloitte professionals every week,” says Wei.
Elmaghraby says Deloitte has been a great industry partner, with this latest program building on previous rich collaborations, including the 10-day Datathon with undergraduate, MBA and MS students in March 2019 that they hope to hold again next Spring.
“We have a strong history of working closely with the faculty and staff at the Smith School of Business to bring our professionals into the classroom to lead classes on data science and analytics to better help prepare them for careers,” says Darren Schneider, a senior manager at Deloitte and a Smith Analytics Consortium board member. “Since we weren’t able to do that in person last semester, we wanted to find an alternative approach. Based on the strong consistent participation that we had in the program, it seemed that the participants got a lot out of it.”
Welch says Deloitte also got a lot of this program and hopes to hold similar workshops in the future.
“To have an army of students come in and provide those unique perspectives, we definitely see the value there so we’re looking forward to the next one.”