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Exclusive - Capella University's Dr. Rhonda Capron Talks Analytics and Online Learning

Dr. Rhonda Capron is a business leader who has found her calling as Dean of Business & Technology at Capella University. She possesses a unique blend of background and experience, both as a seasoned executive and higher education leader directing strategic initiatives and operations within high-tech businesses.

Prior to joining Capella in 2016, Dr. Capron was the academic dean of the School of Business at University of Phoenix. Prior to that position, she held academic leadership roles at William Jessup University. She also has an extensive background in the business sector and the military. She was vice president of support services and software as a service at Oracle Corporation, and she served as the deputy director for operations within the Departments of Army and Energy.

icrunchdata News speaks with education leaders about their programs and latest initiatives. Today, Dr. Capron discusses the demand for data professionals, Capella's online analytics programs, and the future of data in business.

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Today’s transforming workplace faces a critical need for professionals with a deep set of skills in data analytics. What is Capella doing to help close the skills gap in analytics?

At Capella we recognize employers’ immediate need for data professionals with job-ready skills. By offering bachelor’s, master’s, and graduate certificate programs in analytics that are taught 100% online, we make education more accessible for professionals with various backgrounds and career goals.

Understanding that we need more women to enter the analytics field to help close the skills gap, Capella joined forces with SAS to launch the Women in Analytics scholarship in 2016. Through this program we not only provided four women with full-ride scholarships for our bachelor’s and master’s analytics programs, we also provide them with valuable mentoring and networking opportunities. In April, we will begin accepting applications for our 2017 scholarship.

To provide our students with more immediate value, we couple our degree programs with multiple opportunities for our students to earn non-degree credentials as they progress through their programs. These non-degree credentials include two new graduate certificates in analytics that were developed in collaboration with SAS and are available for new students in April 2017.

In addition, our analytics students can earn digital badges and a variety of SAS® certifications. These allow our students to earn marketable credentials WHILE they work towards completing their degree. These credentials can help validate to their current employer, potential employers, and peers more immediately the skills and knowledge they’ve acquired and demonstrated.

Another exciting new way we upskill analytics students is with a full subscription to Pluralsight, a global leader in online learning for IT specialists. Through Pluralsight’s library of more than 5,000 courses, our students’ experience interactive learning and lab practice in a variety of in-demand IT areas.

How is Capella able to teach analytics programs 100% online?

While our learning is delivered 100% online, our students have access to a variety of people and support staff who are there to help them along the way, including coaches and advisors, faculty, academic tutors, library staff, and our writing center. In collaboration with SAS, our faculty built authentic assessments tied to real-world scenarios.

For example, at Capella, we approach the course competencies in a unique way through a simulated virtual internship. Through the interactive simulation our students work both independently and with each other to investigate complex data sets, determine the proper analytic tools to use, and present their findings to leaders. They learn to build vital team skills sought by many of today’s employers.

In addition, through our secure virtual lab environments, students have access to industry leading software allowing them to gain hands-on experience with tools used in the industry.

Together, these elements create a high quality, powerful student experience.

Tell us more about the MS in Analytics – specifically, the collaboration with SAS and latest program features.

The MS in Analytics program was launched in the fall of 2015. It is a 12 course graduate degree program that was developed in collaboration with SAS. The curriculum was built so students can develop the analytics skills applicable to many organizational settings including: data collection, processing, cleansing, classification, modeling, forecasting, and visualization. These also are built upon a foundation of mining (including text mining), statistics, and reporting across a variety of workplace scenarios that include healthcare, marketing, and finance.

The features of this program are numerous. As mentioned earlier, students in this program gain valuable hands-on experience through our virtual internship and as a result of our relationship with SAS, we were able to fill this internship experience with several full versions of the industry’s most powerful and well-known data analysis tools. Throughout the program students obtain a working knowledge of SAS Enterprise Guide®, SAS Enterprise Miner™, SAS® Forecast Server, SAS® Visual Analytics, and SAS® Text Miner.

In addition to these authentic experiences, our collaboration with SAS gives our learners the opportunity to earn graduate certificates and digital badges as they progress through their program and our courses also align to the following SAS certifications for which students are given the opportunity to earn vouchers to take the exams at no additional cost:

  • SAS® Base Programmer for SAS 9
  • SAS® Certified Advanced Programmer for SAS 9
  • SAS® Certified Statistical Business Analyst Using SAS 9
  • SAS® Certified Predictive Modeler Using SAS Enterprise Miner™ 13

All in all, our partnership with SAS is an extremely valuable one. In addition to allowing us to reach an underserved population through our Women in Analytics scholarship, this collaborative effort has enabled us to create a program that provides the industry with data professionals who have obtained authentic real-world experiences and a working knowledge of robust and powerful industry tools.


Learn more about Capella's Online Analytics Programs >


For what type of student is this particular program designed?

We have students from various backgrounds. Some of our students have nominal analytics experience and realize they need to upskill in this critical area. We also have students that are more advanced analytics professionals seeking to complete an academic degree with contemporary certification credentials.

The virtual internship is an intriguing method to provide hands-on learning experience and get students workforce ready. How does it work?

We are especially proud of this innovation. This internship commences at the outset of the program as a group project that spans all courses. These educational experiences provide students with the opportunity to apply their knowledge to a real-world set of healthcare-based scenarios and datasets using a suite of SAS® tools. Our students can apply what they are learning in a work setting that can translate into their current or future professional job responsibilities.

What kind of results are students experiencing after graduating from the analytics programs?

We are excited to share that our first cohort of students will graduate this spring. We are especially proud of two Capella students who recently earned first place at the MinneMUDAC: Dive Into Water analytics competition in Minneapolis. Both students credited their win in-part to the knowledge and skills they gained in their MS in Analytics program. We recently published a great blog post featuring these students.

Which big data focuses or challenges do you see impacting Education?

Capella University faculty and administration focus on providing the competencies that are needed in organizations today. Analytics skills are a perfect example of a differentiated skill set that can set our graduates apart. Every organization needs to be able to review the data they collect and make effective decisions. We focus on educational experiences that can fulfill the critical skill gaps in our economy. Our big data challenge includes the verification that students are gaining those skills through a culture of assessment.

Alignment of program outcomes with what employers and organizations need is another data challenge. This alignment is not a one and done exercise, but a constant scan of industries, occupations, and sector skills. We do this by engaging with industry groups and advisory boards, as well as aligning with discipline-driven knowledge. Our partners, including SAS, aid in our ability to understand knowledge needed by analytics professionals.

What advice do you have for data-driven organizations who want to partner with an online university?

Much like an online university, data-driven organizations are known to do their homework. It is therefore imperative for these organizations to partner with online universities that hold strong industry partnerships and domain-specific specialized accreditations. These types of alliances affirm the university and its leadership have developed curricula that balance academic with industry needs.

Capella University listens to our organizational partners and aligns our program outcomes to their needs. This alignment allows our current students and graduates to contribute effectively to their organization’s mission and achieve critical goals. The MS in Analytics program is a great example of alignment with industry partners enabling specialized certifications.

What are your predictions on the future of data analytics in business?

The interconnectedness of our lives in a global setting has placed even greater demands on real-time data and analytic insight. Global market transactions are carried out in milliseconds that can mean the success or failure of an industry.

Whether it is commercial insight from web transactions, operational monitoring of computing systems, the volume from the Internet of Things, or the wearable devices in our lives, it is clear that data drives new insights. But more data does not always mean more insights, so that will be the challenge our graduates will face.

Is there something most people don’t know about you?

I am a perfect example of a lifelong learner. As a first generation college graduate, I earned my bachelor’s degree, 10 years later my Masters, then 20 years to my doctoral degree. Thirty years from now I will be working on my law degree maybe! Learning never stops.


Learn more about Capella's Online Analytics Programs >


Article published by Anna Hill
Image credit by Capella University
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