When life happened, KSU grad found opportunities

KENNESAW, Ga. | Sep 17, 2020

The last thing Kianni James ever expected was to develop a passion for data analytics. But when she returned to college after taking time off to work and raise her son, she was surprised to learn how much successful businesses rely on data to guide their decision-making. It soon became her dream to become a data analyst – a dream she recently accomplished.

James graduated in May with a degree in information systems from the Michael J. Coles College of Business with a minor in applied statistics. In August, she began working as an inventory solutions data analyst with The Home Depot, the country’s largest home improvement retailer.

Kianni James

Starting her career in data analytics now is especially satisfying for James, who remembers being told nearly 10 years ago when she became a single mother at 17 that her job prospects would be limited.

“People told me that my future is only going to be about being a mother,” she said. “Friends, family, even teachers told me that I’d have to choose between an education and being a mom – I couldn’t do both.”

While parenthood is an important part of her life – she now has two sons, ages 8 and 3 – James was determined not to let it define her. The Orlando native earned an associate degree in business administration from Valencia Community College and moved to Atlanta, where she co-founded a short-lived digital marketing company. Using Google Analytics to monitor user activity introduced her to the power of data and inspired her to enroll at Kennesaw State University to pursue a career in analytics.

“I know few people would ever say this, but I fell in love with statistics,” James said. “A lot of analytics and data science is statistics. It’s a lot of deep math and methodical processes for completing tasks. As a very organized person who likes things done in a certain way, analytics is very calming to me.”

Being a student in the IS program provided James with many opportunities to develop her skills. She joined student organizations such as Women in Technology and the IS Club, attended career fairs and worked for a semester as a teaching assistant for associate professor Dominic Thomas.

Thomas assigned James to tutor other students, had her lead a guest lecture on using the Python programming language in analytics, and recommended her to head the newly created data analytics competition team. The team was preparing to compete in the Association of Information Systems student analytics challenge before it was canceled by the COVID-19 pandemic.

James said that Thomas was always encouraging and told her that being a nontraditional student was not a roadblock to success.

“Students come here with all types of backstories and experiences,” said Thomas. “Sometimes those come with heavy burdens, and many companies value students who have been able to overcome those challenges like working full time and raising kids while pursuing a degree. That is a strength, not a weakness.

During her senior year, James secured an internship with tourism industry technology firm Travelport after attending a career fair, which became a full-time job after graduation. Although travel industry contractions due to the pandemic led her to leave Travelport, James said the experience taught her a lot about the industry.

“I learned the importance of presentation skills and backing up your findings,” she said. “Sometimes working in analytics gets messy. Learning how to present your results properly and back yourself up is vital.”

Now as she begins the next phase of her career with The Home Depot, where she maintains dashboards and performs ad hoc reporting for the company’s HD Pro business, these lessons continue to guide her.

“This position is challenging me and pushing me beyond my previous capabilities,” she said. “It’s exactly the type of role I’ve needed in my career. A lot of the work is cross-functional between teams, meaning my technical skills, my interpersonal skills, and my strategic skills will all improve. I am thrilled to see where THD takes me in my career.”

Like many people before her, James did not follow a traditional path to her college degree. Though parenthood and other responsibilities created extra stops along the way, they did not prevent her from reaching her destination. And for other people in similar situations, James hopes they know that a college education is within their reach.

“People need to understand that a college is there to support them in every way, financially and emotionally,” James said. “Make sure you are not scared to reach out when you need help. Everybody wants to help you. Everybody wants you to make it.”

– Patrick Harbin

Photos submitted

Related Stories

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.