We recently hosted a Q&A with Professor Raj Venkatesan, a member of the UVA Darden Marketing faculty and one of the Co-Academic Directors for the MSBA Program.
In this wide-ranging conversation, Raj reflected upon his background, what attracted him to the Co-Academic Director role, program highlights from the past year, how the program is incorporating generative AI and other new technologies into the curriculum, and more. Read on for excerpts from the conversation, and be sure to check out the full conversation for even more insights.
Watch the video here or listen to the podcast below.
We’ve made some changes in the structure of the program to make it more suitable for students, streamlining the courses a bit, giving them more focus on coding and data analysis, and bringing the focus into new developments like generative AI.
We have also started this immersion program—I’ll be traveling with a group of 20 students to New York City, and we’ll be meeting with different companies—Bloomberg, American Express, LVMH, LinkedIn, to name a few—seeking to understand how they use analytics.
We have also launched a peer tutoring program. In my opinion, one of this program’s greatest strengths is that we attract students from a wide range of backgrounds. But that also means that some students are new to coding. Other students may be new to the communications end of the curriculum—presentations, PowerPoint, Tableau, etc. The peer tutoring program consists of volunteers from the current cohort who raise their hands and offer their expertise to help their peers. It’s been wonderful to see this develop.
For next year, we expect to have a global immersion offering. The locations we are currently discussing include Israel, Sweden, Ireland, Germany, England, places where we feel technology and analytics are growing outside of the U.S. We may also offer a domestic option in a city like New York City or San Francisco. These are elective experiences, but I think visiting companies and seeing how they are leveraging data and analytics add real context to the knowledge that students are gaining through the program’s curriculum.
The capstone is a wonderful experience, and it’s a little different from the projects the students have worked on previously because the students source the capstone project themselves.
Interestingly, the capstone is a three-credit course, effectively doubling the number of credits of the previous modules’ projects. The fifth module is also intended to be a culmination of all the students’ learnings during the program.
This year’s projects really run the gamut—predicting housing pricing, predicting demand for a B2B chemical company, increasing participation rates and donor lifetime value for a nonprofit organization, predicting fraud, understanding sentiments based on user generation—the list goes on.
In my opinion, that’s the beauty of this program. The goal of the MSBA Program is to be as current as possible. For example, this year, we have already had classes on generative AI. In Module Four (March/April), one of the faculty led a class session on using generative AI, how to query it, and how to integrate it within your coding process. Our faculty really embrace new technologies, and the program’s focus on application-based learning gives us a tremendous amount of flexibility to incorporate new tools and techniques.
Judgment matters. What do I mean by that? With the advent of ChatGPT and similar technologies, predictions and analytics are quickly becoming commodities. What really matters is how you use that information to make decisions in your company. It’s not just coding but also communication and leadership that are going to matter going forward. People who can connect these left and right brain skills are going to be the most valuable resources in the workforce. From its conception, the MSBA Program has always been about the T, which is breadth and depth, depth within analytics and breadth in terms of leadership and judgment, and we think we are very well-positioned for this moment.
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