School of Data Science and Analytics, Industry Partnership a Cornerstone to Innovative Solutions

KENNESAW, Ga. | Mar 26, 2021

Data Science

Before finishing his degree at Kennesaw State, Trevor Sands never thought his analytical skills would make him a fit at one of the world’s largest flooring manufacturers.

However, he quickly learned that not only were his skills needed in the flooring industry, but they were also needed in virtually any industry. Following a research presentation at KSU’s annual R-Day, he was aggressively recruited by Georgia-based Shaw Industries for an internship opportunity and was hired full time before graduating from KSU.

“I often joke that this was the job I didn’t want because I thought it would be boring, but I couldn’t have been more wrong,” said Sands, now a data scientist at Shaw Industries. “Once I began working with the company and seeing how I could be utilized, I started to realize exactly how much opportunity I have to grow in my career at Shaw and why data scientists are so sought after. We can suit every industry.”

Like Sands, more than 4,200 students in KSU’s School of Data Science and Analytics are applying their skills to help industry partners solve their most pressing problems. The students, in return, gain exposure to a variety of potential career pathways. Officially launched in January, the School is unique in that it is composed of students across a variety of degree programs, including the country’s first Ph.D. in Analytics and Data Science, a master’s degree and a minor in applied statistics and data analysis.

“We have taken a very interdisciplinary orientation with regard to data science,” said Jennifer Priestley, director of the Ph.D. program. “Our students are taught this as its own discipline; they are truly exploring the science of data. So at its core, you will find that it is similar across all industries, and I think that has been a factor in why we’ve been so successful in partnering with so many companies across the region.”

Through the Center for Statistics and Analytical Research (CSAR), the School of Data Science and Analytics has received more than $3 million in research funding across partnerships with 20 different organizations representing government, financial technology, manufacturing and healthcare industries. It’s also home to various labs sponsored by industry leaders such as Equifax, Home Depot and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Tennessee, which have generated three patents and hundreds of peer-reviewed research publications and proceedings. The School also houses the Human Studies Lab, funded by the Gerber Foundation and Wellstar, and the Diplomacy Lab, a university-wide partnership supporting the U.S. State Department.

Generally speaking, companies partner with the School for several reasons, including building a talent pipeline, said Priestley, who recently co-authored a book titled Closing the Analytics Talent Gap: The Analytics Professional's Guide to Working with Universities. As was the case with Sands, this often takes the form of an internship but also happens when industry partners sponsor capstone and research projects.

The second reason companies partner with universities is that it allows companies to temporarily extend their resources to tackle short-term projects. Sometimes, this takes place in the Applied Analytics Course, with student teams 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 Coke One North America.

The third reason is that companies are seeking research collaboration, which complements the Ph.D. research environment cultivated within the School. Bill Franks, director of CSAR, said that while many leading companies have their own research and development departments, Kennesaw State has the ability to augment their research by connecting them with faculty experts and students eager to gain experience.

“By working with us, they have access to resources who have relevant expertise and can dedicate their time to getting the research done and tested, while the sponsor can focus on their business operations,” he said. “In that sense, we help accelerate the discovery process.”

The final reason to partner with a university is tied to altruism, Priestley said. Organizations are looking to positively impact their communities and turn to the data scientists at KSU for help. Previously, faculty and students have helped chart COVID-19 vaccine distributions, helped a local fire department improve call response time and even crunched numbers to help develop an optimal travel route for the Bert’s Big Adventure charity fundraiser with Jersey Mike’s Subs.

“Our default position with every organization that reaches out to us is, ‘Yes, we will work with you…we have a way to help you,’” she said. “We never turn anyone away. If we don’t have the expertise in our School then we are certain that someone within the greater university does. This is foundational to being in a community.”

– Travis Highfield

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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