KSU alumna returns to mentor data science students, provide career guidance

KENNESAW, Ga. | Oct 2, 2020

A year after earning her master’s degree in applied statistics and analytics, Kelly Linz is back on campus, this time as an industry expert sharing her knowledge of data literacy with a new group of students.

Linz, who works as an advanced analytics data scientist at Coke One North America (CONA), was hired shortly after completing a course in applied analytics offered by the Analytics and Data Science Institute. The Applied Analytics Projects course, which is open to all graduate students regardless of major, tasks student teams with solving real-world problems under the guidance of a corporate sponsor. Over the years, sponsors of the course have included Georgia Pacific, SPANX, Cox Communications, Shaw Industries, Equifax, and CONA Services.

Kelly Linz

Now equipped with industry experience, Linz has returned this semester as a sponsor working with and mentoring students on a research project for CONA Services and Coca-Cola Southwest Beverages. The project focuses on how the CONA Services system is paid and the factors that improve or delay the payment process.

According to Linz, this project will provide students with the same type of experience that she received when she was in the class and that she credits with her ability to land her current position.

“No doubt, I 100 percent earned my job because of my work in this course. However, even if I hadn’t gotten the job at CONA Services, the class would have been worth it because without it I wouldn’t have had that industry experience otherwise.”

Linz enrolled in the applied analytics course on a whim, seeking to fulfill her graduation requirements. Having earned a bachelor’s degree in biology from Kennesaw State, Linz originally planned to work in a research-related field in biology. However, once she enrolled in the applied analytics course, Linz noticed the field of data science is ever-changing instead of repetitive. She later transitioned from pursuing biology research to a career in data science.

“I saw that I would never be doing the same thing two days in a row,” Linz said. “I decided it was really important to keep learning and not get stuck doing the same thing day in and day out.”

At the conclusion of her applied analytics course, Linz’s presentation caught the eye of CONA Services’ leadership board, who offered her a position at the company.

Stories like Linz’s highlight the breadth of the field, said Jennifer Priestley, professor of statistics who teaches the applied analytics course. The course is designed to help students develop data literacy skills, something she believes can be useful in any occupation.

“I think every student on campus should have some experience with data literacy,” she said. “To be honest, I think everyone should have some basic knowledge of how to work with data, how to translate data to information to solve problems.”

Kelly Linz

Having a graduate of the program return to help mentor students was Priestley’s hope when she first developed the course in 2017.

“Students get so much more out of using data that relates to a real-world challenge that a company has rather than taking it out of textbook; it’s just a much stronger more high-impact experience,” she said. “Then you add having someone who has actually walked in their path, an alum who is now working in industry and it is irreplaceable, you almost can’t put a value on it.”

Linz hopes that students can learn from her experience in the course and become confident in their abilities to make a difference in the workplace.

“My hope is that they can see where I started,” she said. “I’m very straightforward with them; I was not a computer science wiz, I was not a math genius, I had a degree in biology,” said Linz.  “But I took the skills I had, made it work and ultimately found the career I was meant to have. Hopefully, my story will inspire others.”

– Josh Milton

Photos by Jason Getz

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A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its more than 45,000 students. Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia with 11 academic colleges. The university’s vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the country and the world. Kennesaw State is a Carnegie-designated doctoral research institution (R2), placing it among an elite group of only 7 percent of U.S. colleges and universities with an R1 or R2 status. For more information, visit kennesaw.edu.