In-depth data prep

Here UWL Junior Alex Jantz presents

During the culmination of a data analysis project spring semester, students in an economics course presented to an audience of local business professionals from companies such as Mayo Clinic Health System, Reinhart Food Service, Organic Valley, Logistics Health Inc., and Kwik Trip. A total of 30 volunteers provided presentation feedback and coaching to students over the course of the semester. Here UWL Junior Alex Jantz presents.

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.

UWL senior Adam Crotteau presenting to the panel of local judges.
UWL senior Adam Crotteau says experience in his economics course with data helped in a recent job interview.

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.

Local business' provided feedback for a team of economics students in ECO 230 after presenting their findings from a data analysis project.
Associate Professor of Economics Mary Hamman, left, and two local business professionals, Mel Engen, of Logistics Health Inc., and and Matt Tradewell, from Mayo Clinic Health System – Franciscan Healthcare in La Crosse, provided feedback for a team of economics students in ECO 230 after presenting their findings from a data analysis project. Economics 230 is a core business course required of all business students. The course gives students a combination of data analytics and communication experience. “It’s a fun process to watch,” says Hamman. “You see a lot of growth in one semester.”

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
Ashley Furniture
Mayo Clinic Health System – La Crosse
La Crosse Area Family YMCA
Reinhart Food Service
American Family Insurance
Kwik Trip
Mutual of Omaha
Festival Foods
Organic Valley