Ross Jackson, assistant professor of business at Wittenberg, now has another new title: director of the Master of Science in Analytics program administered through the University’s School of Graduate and Professional Studies (GPS).
The former technical expert for strategic studies at the Air Force Materiel Command headquarters at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Jackson brings to his new post research that intersects analytics and existentialism to explore the human dimensions of decision-making. Recently, he has studied the application of textual analysis techniques to highlight the inherent ambiguity of texts, and to problematize how individuals and organizations make sense as part of their daily routines. Additionally, Jackson has taught numerous analytics courses during the past 15 years at several local and regional colleges and universities.
Affiliated with Wittenberg since June 2016, he became a full-time professor in August 2018, teaching strategy and analytics courses, in addition to becoming director of Wittenberg’s graduate program in analytics and teaching courses in the program related to data visualization and textual analysis.
“Wittenberg University’s analytics program is uniquely powerful,” said Jackson, who earned a bachelor’s degree in business economics from Ohio University in 1997, his master’s in applied economics from Ohio University in 1998, and his Ph.D. in applied management and decision sciences from Walden University (in Minneapolis, Minnesota) in 2008. “By combining the analytic rigor of a technical program with the broader perspectives of a liberal arts education, this program produces analysts with the critical and creative thinking skills required to be effective analysts in complex, decision-making environments. With its focus on understanding how analysis is used to inform decisions, all within a 12-month period, students learn how to analyze both data as well as the context in which the decisions are being made. This enables students to become professionals who are not only capable of executing analytic work, but also have the ability to focus one’s effort for maximum organizational effect.”
Jackson said that analytics is a broad skillset, and those that acquire analytic skills can compete successfully for a variety of careers. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, analytic fields are in demand and expected to increase for the foreseeable future. The job outlook in terms of expected growth rates for key careers for the years 2016-2026 are as follows: budget analyst, seven percent (as fast as average); cost analyst, 11 percent (faster than average); management analyst, 14 percent (faster than average); market research analyst, 23 percent (much faster than average); and operations research analysts, 27 percent (much faster than average).
Jackson recently took time out of his busy schedule to talk about his goals and ideas for Wittenberg’s program.
Wittenberg: Tell me about the analytics field, what trends you see, and where you want to take the field here at Wittenberg.
Jackson: Frequently, when trends in the field of analytics are discussed, focus is given to the increases in both computing power and the availability of data. These are important trends; however, the focus on these two things often obscures an important consequence. Due to these increases, there is a corresponding decrease in the cost of analysis. This decrease in cost holds an important implication for organizations. Historically, analysis was only conducted on the most strategic and costly efforts due to the significant investment required. It is becoming increasingly cost-effective to conduct analysis at the tactical decision-making level. This means one could expect a significant increase in the demand for analysis.
With this “democratization” of analytics-based decision making, it is increasingly important for analysts to be mindful of broader human considerations, which occur within organizations and which influence how analyses are consumed. Analysis is a powerful tool for informing organizational decision-making only in so far as the results prompt action. The focus of the Wittenberg program is to integrate analytics with the liberal arts to develop graduates who have both analytic skills and the ability to make them impactful.
Wittenberg: How is Wittenberg preparing our students for these trends and for their future?
Jackson: We are preparing Wittenberg students for the future of analysis first by using the Integrated Development Environment (IDE) of RStudio (a free, open-source programming language). This allows students to gain experience in computer programming and analysis in an environment that they are able to “take with them” in future employment.
Another way we are preparing Wittenberg students for the future of analysis is by including areas like textual analysis in the curriculum. The program is designed for students to complete the degree requirements within a one-year (12-month) period. Organizations have a great deal of quantitative (e.g., budgetary) and textual (e.g., memoranda) information. We prepare students to be able to effectively analyze both.
Lastly, our focus is on making sure that the analysis actually informs organizational decision-making. While the technical aspects of analysis are foundational, it is important to understand that analysis is a means, not an end. This program is focused on preparing analysts to be able to both conduct rigorous analysis and communicate its value to organizational executives so they take action.
Wittenberg: What types of jobs can our students apply for with this master’s degree in analytics and how much money can they make in the field?
Jackson: Analytics is a broad skillset. Graduates with a master’s degree in analytics from Wittenberg University could be employed as analysts in the fields of budget, cost, management, marketing, and operations research. In discussing wage information, it is useful to consider the median wage (i.e., the wage at which 50 percent make more than that value, and 50 percent make less). As a point of comparison, the median U.S. household income in 2017 (according to the U.S. Census Bureau) is $61,372. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, the wages for analytic fields are significantly above the median U.S. household wage: budget analyst - $76,220, cost analyst - $64,040, management analyst - $83,610, market research analyst - $63,120, and an operations research analyst - $83,390. Given that students graduating from the Wittenberg University analytics program will have an advanced degree, it is reasonable to expect they could command a wage at the median or above.
Wittenberg: Tell me what skills are necessary for our students to grow and develop long-term in the field.
Jackson: Continuous learning is essential for staying current, relevant, and engaged in a profession. This is true for analytics as well. From a technical perspective, a student benefits from a focus on skills related to relevant software advancements, coding, and data sources.
From the liberal arts perspective, a student benefits from an awareness of the organizational and societal changes, which take place and are suggestive of both where one might want to focus analysis and the power-dynamics at play that will influence its consumption. Staying current in both of these domains should enable our students to remain effective and advance in their chosen careers.
In other news for GPS: Alexis McCartney has been promoted to the position of coordinator of admission and operations in GPS. She will be working with Jackson and the entire GPS team to recruit new graduate students, market all GPS programs within the community, and continue to manage the GPS office. Since joining Wittenberg in 2017, McCartney has made an impact through her work with the College Credit Plus Program, which she will continue to administer, and in her work to improve overall GPS operations. She earned her bachelor’s degree in business/medical office administration from Pensacola Christian College, Florida.