Doctoral student aims to impact healthcare through data

KENNESAW, Ga. | Sep 25, 2020

Lauren Staples
Lauren Staples

Throughout her professional career, Kennesaw State University Ph.D. student Lauren Staples has always found herself picking up the mantle of the “data person.”

After earning her degree in biosystems engineering from Clemson University in 2009, she took a role as a process engineer for a Boston-based biochemical company, where over time she became heavily involved in pulling data for plant control systems at its Louisiana facility. After earning a graduate degree in statistics from the University of New Hampshire, she would go on to work for another chemical company in Florida as a project engineer, once again gravitating toward data management.

“At that point, I started to feel the pull to become a data-driven professional full-time,” she said.

During 11-months as a data management analyst at Children’s Oncology Group in Gainesville, Fla., Staples was introduced to Kennesaw State’s Ph.D. in Analytics and Data Science program by her husband, whose coworkers had previously applied. Following a conversation with Jennifer Priestley, executive director of Analytics and Data Science Institute, Staples made the decision to move to Marietta in order to pursue her degree.

After arriving in July 2017, Staples quickly ingrained herself in the program. She was one of several graduate analytics and data science students who developed an optimal route for Bert’s Big Adventure, in which Bert Weiss, the host of  Atlanta radio’s The Bert Show, and his co-host visited 39 different Jersey Mike’s Subs restaurants throughout the Atlanta, Macon and Columbus areas as part of a fundraising effort. Like many students studying in the institute, she has also built strong industry connections. With a background in healthcare, Staples was invited to work with industry partner BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee and has served as a consultant with the insurance provider since May 2018.

“Having those industry connections is incredibly beneficial to the students,” she said. “Normally, if you’re trying to pick a topic to research, you normally have just Google Scholar to try to determine which direction to go. It can be pretty wide open, but with a corporate sponsor it helps narrow that field down and allows you to focus on what they need from a business perspective.”

In her role, she analyzes TennCare’s Episodes of Care program, which is administered by BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, in an effort to understand what is driving costs within the program and discover if there are ways to decrease costs through improved efficiency without impacting the quality of care.”. She is most interested in determining if costs are within the control of the healthcare provider or if external factors are at play.

“Since her arrival, Lauren has been an excellent example of how industry can directly benefit by engaging with our students,” Priestley said. “She, like many others, is at the forefront of identifying tangible solutions for our partners, and we are so incredibly proud of the work she produces on a consistent basis.”

With research interests in healthcare delivery systems models, variability in healthcare and in population health and claims data, Staples said she intends to continue investigating well after she earns her Ph.D.

“I’m hooked on research now,” she said. “Once I earn my Ph.D., I’m very interested in a research-oriented position somewhere, whether it’s at a university, foundation or elsewhere. I want to apply my skills where they can make an impact.”

– Travis Highfield

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 nearly 43,000 students. With 11 colleges on two metro Atlanta campuses, Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia. 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 6 percent of U.S. colleges and universities with an R1 or R2 status. For more information, visit