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MTSU business analytics class elevates real-world ...

MTSU business analytics class elevates real-world data from industry partner KONE Inc.

Over the course of 90 minutes during MTSU assistant professor Stephanie Totty’s graduate course in information systems and analytics, a smorgasbord of colorful dashboards are projected from students’ computers or thumb drives to the large screen inside a third-floor classroom in the Business and Aerospace Building.

These 10 MTSU students had roughly 10 minutes to showcase the skills they’d developed under Totty’s guidance over the last several weeks into their own unique digital dashboard, thanks to an innovative partnership with KONE, a global leader in the elevator and escalator industry, that provided students with real-world data from which to learn.

MTSU information system and analytics professor Stephane Totty gives instructions to graduate students in her Applied Business Analytics class inside the Business and Aerospace Building earlier in the semester. (MTSU photo by Jimmy Hart)
MTSU information system and analytics professor Stephane Totty gives instructions to graduate students in her Applied Business Analytics class inside the Business and Aerospace Building earlier in the semester. (MTSU photo by Jimmy Hart)
MTSU graduate student Leon Blandon awaits his turn to present his dashboard project to KONE Inc. executive Robert Whitaker as part of information system and analytics professor Stephane Totty’s Applied Business Analytics class inside the Business and Aerospace Building earlier in the semester. (MTSU photo by Jimmy Hart)
MTSU graduate student Leon Blandon awaits his turn to present his dashboard project to KONE Inc. executive Robert Whitaker as part of information system and analytics professor Stephane Totty’s Applied Business Analytics class inside the Business and Aerospace Building earlier in the semester. (MTSU photo by Jimmy Hart)

KONE provides elevators, escalators and automatic building doors as well as solutions for maintenance and modernization for buildings throughout their life cycle. With over 60,000 employees worldwide representing 145 nationalities, the company touts its ability to help “make people’s journeys safe, convenient and reliable, in taller, smarter buildings.”

The company gave Totty’s Applied Business Analytics class limited access to a host of what Totty called “disparate data” from various operational areas such as hours worked and safety and training performance.

Department of Information Systems and Analytics logo

The goal was for the graduate students to create a dashboard concept that KONE executives at a variety of managerial levels might find useful to either get snapshots of overall performance metrics across districts or regions, or even be able to drill down further into the data to highlight the performance metrics of a specific branch.

“This is ideal for a business class,” said Totty, an assistant professor in the Jones College of Business Department of Information Systems and Analytics and in her second year at the university“We were able to take the data that they provided to us and pull it all together in one spot to make (decisions) easier for them. … And they were wonderful in giving us a lot of data.”

Totty said the two sections of the course included MBA students as well as students seeking their master’s degrees in information systems. While students worked on their dashboards individually using Microsoft Excel spreadsheets and Tableau dashboarding software, Totty said there were numerous group discussions where students shared ideas and challenges.

From left, MTSU graduate students Rinky Harwani, left, and Michaela Wright, middle, discuss their class project with KONE Inc. executive Robert Whitaker as part of information system and analytics professor Stephane Totty’s Applied Business Analytics class inside the Business and Aerospace Building earlier in the semester. KONE provided students with real-world data as part of the project. (MTSU photo by Jimmy Hart)
MTSU graduate students Rinky Harwani, left, and Michaela Wright discuss their class project with KONE Inc. executive Robert Whitaker as part of information system and analytics professor Stephane Totty’s Applied Business Analytics class inside the Business and Aerospace Building earlier in the semester. KONE provided students with real-world data as part of the project. (MTSU photo by Jimmy Hart)

‘It’s all very new for me’

MBA candidate Michaela Wright of Columbia, Missouri, said she gained valuable insights from the course setup and working with real data. 

“It’s all very new for me,” Wright said. “I did not have an analytical background in my previous studies, so this was definitely something exciting and new and building off the previous class that we had where it was all very clean data … where everything was kind of nice and neat.

Michaela Wright, MBA student
Michaela Wright

“Here you get to work with the real world and everything’s a little bit messier and you have to figure out what works,” she said.

Wright said her father, who is a professional actuary, told her that being able to analyze real data and solve problems is a valuable, in-demand skill set in today’s workforce. With an undergraduate degree in graphic design, Wright said she wants to work in the marketing industry as a graphic designer or marketing analyst.

“I think that understanding data is good for any (profession), but I definitely see it transferring to what I want to do,” she said.

Dr. Stephanie Totty, assistant professor, Information Systems and Analytics
Dr. Stephanie Totty

Totty said the class didn’t receive the data until right before the fall semester started, and with just seven weeks of class time ahead of them, compiling and properly analyzing the vast amount of data received “proved quite the challenge,” Totty said. 

“At some point, I think around week four, the switch flipped,” she added. “They did learn some new things and learning is what we do here.

“Students were able to present to a real business executive and get feedback and also something they can put on their resume,” she said. “We’re in the business of getting people prepared for jobs, and certainly this is something that they can say that they did. You can’t replicate real-world data.”

Robert Whitaker, a district environmental and safety director and nine-year veteran with KONE Inc., provides feedback to a student’s presentation in information system and analytics professor Stephane Totty’s class inside the Business and Aerospace Building earlier in the semester. At left is student Leon Blandon. (MTSU photo by Jimmy Hart)
Robert Whitaker, a district environmental and safety director and nine-year veteran with KONE Inc., provides feedback for a student’s presentation in information system and analytics professor Stephane Totty’s class inside the Business and Aerospace Building earlier in the semester. At left is student Leon Blandon. (MTSU photo by Jimmy Hart)

‘I was impressed’

Dr. Stuart Fowler, Economics and Finance professor, interim chair
Dr. Stuart Fowler

The partnership with KONE developed through a personal relationship between Stuart Fowler, associate professor and chair of the Department of Economics and Financeand Robert Whitaker, a district environmental, health and safety director, and nine-year veteran with KONE. 

The collaboration also was in line with the Jones College of Business initiative to give its students opportunities for real-world, industry-sponsored learning experiences.

“There are several benefits to this type of novel learning,” Fowler said. “First, at the end of the semester, the students must present their findings to a company executive. This presentation develops the necessary communication skills in today’s business world. Second, the interaction and networking with the corporation potentially leads to future opportunities.”

MTSU graduate student Jan Brimhall presents her dashboard project to KONE Inc. executive Robert Whitaker, foreground, as part of information system and analytics professor Stephane Totty’s Applied Business Analytics class inside the Business and Aerospace Building earlier in the semester. (MTSU photo by Jimmy Hart)
MTSU graduate student Jan Brimhall presents her dashboard project to KONE Inc. executive Robert Whitaker, foreground, as part of information system and analytics professor Stephane Totty’s Applied Business Analytics class inside the Business and Aerospace Building earlier in the semester. (MTSU photo by Jimmy Hart)
From front to back, MTSU graduate students Randy Hazelton, Yingying Liu, Harold King and Jan Brimhall observe as a classmate presents their dashboard project to KONE Inc. executive Robert Whitaker as part of information system and analytics professor Stephane Totty’s Applied Business Analytics class inside the Business and Aerospace Building earlier in the semester. (MTSU photo by Jimmy Hart)
From front to back, MTSU graduate students Randy Hazelton, Yingying Liu, Harold King and Jan Brimhall observe as a classmate presents their dashboard project to KONE Inc. executive Robert Whitaker as part of information system and analytics professor Stephane Totty’s Applied Business Analytics class inside the Business and Aerospace Building earlier in the semester. (MTSU photo by Jimmy Hart)

Whitaker recalled his own positive experience with direct interactions with a private company when he obtained his MBA years ago and felt KONE could assist MTSU, also a KONE customer, by providing Jones College students a similar experience.

After getting approval from KONE leadership, he, Fowler and Totty had discussions over the next several months to pin down an objective for the students before deciding to move forward with the partnership.

Jones College of Business logo

To help facilitate the course, Whitaker served as a mentor to the students, sitting in on three classes during the seven-week period to present background on KONE and answer student questions as they sifted through the data, giving feedback to draft versions of their dashboards as well as during the recent presentations of their final submissions.

“I was impressed,” Whitaker said, adding that Totty’s decision to have students work individually was valuable. “We got to see (several) different views. There were some commonalities, such as the filtering options … and I picked up several things that I’m going to pass on to our folks that would make our dashboards even better than what they are.

“For me, it was a really good experience. … There are some deliverables out of that that we’re going to be able to explore.”

Totty said this was her first time teaching such a course in partnership with private industry, and she hopes that she can expand on the idea with future classes and business partners.

“We’re trying to give students in the class a good experience, but we’re also trying to give the client something as well. So the deliverable for us is this proof of concept: this is what you could do; this is how I did it,” Totty said. “The partnership has been excellent.”

MTSU graduate student Timothy Hasemeier awaits his turn to present his dashboard project to KONE Inc. executive Robert Whitaker as part of information system and analytics professor Stephane Totty’s Applied Business Analytics class inside the Business and Aerospace Building earlier in the semester. (MTSU photo by Jimmy Hart)
MTSU graduate student Timothy Hasemeier awaits his turn to present his dashboard project to KONE Inc. executive Robert Whitaker as part of information system and analytics professor Stephane Totty’s Applied Business Analytics class inside the Business and Aerospace Building earlier in the semester. (MTSU photo by Jimmy Hart)

‘A unique aspect of this class’

MTSU graduate student Mark Darling, a Bahamas native who’s majoring in information systems with a concentration in business intelligence and analytics, said he was somewhat familiar with working with data from pursuing his undergraduate degree at MTSU in actuarial science with a minor in data science. But, he said, such data sets weren’t typically current when students received access to them.

Mark Darling, information systems major with a concentration in business intelligence and analytics
Mark Darling

“Working with real data has been a unique aspect of this class,” he said. “In this case, working with real data that was actually ‘dirty,’ you get to be more hands-on. … I feel like I had the opportunity to really dive into the data and get a more meaningful grasp of it rather than dealing with static data that was already produced.”

Because students in the class weren’t familiar with KONE, Darling said it was important for them to first get some foundational knowledge about the industry to provide some context for the data they’d be working with.

“So it was good that they had a representative from the company to come speak to us so that we could get a better understanding of the data,” he said.

Darling isn’t yet set on a specific career path; he said he knows it will be one involving data, however, and he’s thankful for the experience in Totty’s class this semester.

“With the way the world is progressing with data becoming so important … I feel like I want to be in a situation where I could land on an actuary team but also land on a business and analytics service team … so that I could be placed in the center of that relationship,” he said.

For more information about MTSU’s Department of Information and Analytics within the Jones College of Business, please visit www.mtsu.edu/isa.

— Jimmy Hart (Jimmy.Hart@mtsu.edu)

MTSU information system and analytics professor Stephane Totty reviews a digital dashboard created by one of her graduate students in her Applied Business Analytics class inside the Business and Aerospace Building earlier in the semester. (MTSU photo by Jimmy Hart)
MTSU information system and analytics professor Stephane Totty reviews a digital dashboard created by one of her graduate students in her Applied Business Analytics class inside the Business and Aerospace Building earlier in the semester. (MTSU photo by Jimmy Hart)

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