Analytics & Operations Department Transforms Data into Insights

March 21, 2022
New Robins School department prepares students to problem solve with data by applying critical and analytical thinking

The Robins School introduced a new academic department last fall—Analytics & Operations (A&O). The department’s curriculum and faculty research respond to the growing demand for graduates with data management and analysis skills to improve the quality and speed of business decisions and processes. The department brings together faculty from different quantitative disciplines such as operations management and information systems.

“The benefits to the students excite me most,” said Tom Mattson, associate professor of analytics & operations. The new department derived from the Robins School’s Management department, which had grown over time to include scholars from many different disciplines. “It became challenging to focus on a single goal or set of goals and evaluate faculty research because the questions, methods, and journals vary widely between the different disciplines all housed under a single department. The departments will be able to develop a robust set of rigorous and relevant electives by having two separate departments each with a narrower focus.”

Faculty now have the ability to develop and improve the analytics concentration and the core management concentrations while focusing efforts on more defined goals and objectives. “In the long-term, this change will benefit our students because the management department has more capacity to build excellent entrepreneurship and consulting concentrations while the analytics faculty does the same for the analytics concentration,” said Mattson. “Smaller departments have the ability to adapt more quickly to industry and student demand for course offerings and skill-building.”

The core curriculum of the analytics concentration centers around information technology, operations management, and business analytics—teaching skills such as problem-solving and critical and analytical thinking. “We want our students to be able to use data to support managerial decision-making,” said Mattson. Teaching using programs such as R, Python, SAS, MongoDB, and SQL, Mattson acknowledges the tools might change over time, but the student’s mindset and approach to problem-solving will transcend the specific tools learned in the curriculum.  

Jafet Rubi, ’22, saw the value in adding analytical concepts to his business degree and chose to pursue a concentration in the field. “I wanted to add a diverse skillset to my toolbox and challenge myself to learn a whole new framework to solve difficult business programs,” he shared. “It’s truly nothing like any other business class offered at the Robins School. You apply a multitude of business concepts, including statistics, marketing, accounting, and even ethics.”

Elizabeth Cappucci, ’21, was first encouraged to try the introductory courses by faculty in the accounting department to help deepen her knowledge about how accounting firms were using machine learning and other analytic capabilities to automate tasks.

Now as an associate at PwC, Cappucci recognizes the ever-evolving role of an auditor and credits her analytics concentration with the ability to think critically and analytically. “The concentration paired perfectly with my accounting classes,” she shared. “The confidence I gained learning to pivot to different software allowed me to better understand and analyze accounting material. It is a true culmination of the liberal arts education that Richmond seeks to provide.”

A&O department course offerings will evolve over time to meet industry and student demand. New elective courses in supply chain management and machine learning are currently under review. 

As Cappucci wraps up her first busy season at PwC, she reflected on her time at Robins. “I was encouraged to take an analytics course by accounting professors and I genuinely just loved it. I cannot say enough good things about the courses, and more importantly, the faculty, in this department. Just don't make me choose which business school department is my favorite!”