Community professionals help business students pump up data analytics, communication skills
During a recent job interview UWL senior Adam Crotteau was asked whether he had used data software. Even though it wasn’t part of the job description, Crotteau is glad he had experiences to share.
He spent spring semester in an Economics course using data and descriptive statistics, inferential statistics and data visualization to address business issues. He also gained experience with programming languages such as R, used for statistical computing. With a team of fellow students, he presented data analytics findings to a panel of volunteer community business professionals in April.
As the number of jobs that require data literacy and analytical skills are on the rise, UWL courses such as this one are adapting to prepare students for this workforce need, explains Brenda Murray, UWL associate lecturer of Economics.
“However, we need to teach more than just the analytical tools, but also how to communicate results to business audiences,” she adds.
For that, Murray and other instructors in 10 sections of “ECO 230: Business & Economics Research & Communication” engaged a team of volunteers from community businesses such as Mayo Clinic Health System, Reinhart Food Service, Organic Valley, Logistics Health and Kwik Trip. A total of 30 community volunteers helped with presentation feedback and coaching students over the course of the semester.
During a Thursday morning in April, Crotteau and several classmates from ECO 230 stood in front of professionals from Mayo Clinic Health System and Logistics Health Inc. Acting as data consultants presenting to a firm’s human resources team, the students presented data analytics findings related to the firm’s gender pay equity.
Local professionals offered tips such as how they could adapt their presentation style for audiences listening in over the phone — a frequent occurrence in today’s business meetings. They also discussed other ways to improve clarity and professionalism such as to the benefits of introducing subsequent speakers and their topic.
Students say the project stretched their skills in terms of analytics, coding and communication.
“This was challenging, but also kind of an exciting challenge,” says UWL Junior Will Olson.
It tested skills they learned both in and outside of class as they dove deeply into data analytics, explains UWL Junior Alex Jantz. “This was the first time I was introduced to computer coding programs,” he says.
College graduates with skills to produce and consume data are becoming increasingly valuable, the students agree.
Data is everywhere so simply being able to interpret it is an advantage in today’s careers. It allows one to filter the information and not blindly trust others interpretations, says Jantz.
“I will not be surprised if data production skills don’t eventually become standard — the new Microsoft Word,” adds Olson.
The students received feedback on presentations from a community business professional or “coach” as they prepared for final presentations. Many students commented on the benefit of working directly with business professionals who helped them uncover gaps in their presentation, build in statistical tests to solidify findings, improve their presentation skills and much more.
“Before getting the feedback our presentation was very different than what we shared today,” said UWL sophomore Chris Marshall. “He [our volunteer coach] definitely helped us. It is great to talk to someone in the business world who knows what a good presentation looks like.”
Volunteers from the following organizations provided mentorship to students this semester:
Logistics Health Inc.
Marine Credit Union
Mayo Clinic Health System – La Crosse
La Crosse Area Family YMCA
Reinhart Food Service
American Family Insurance
Mutual of Omaha