Earning a Data Analytics Certificate at George Fox makes new tools accessible for students Dixie Downey and Garrett Fissell

Being adaptable is crucial to data analytics. To serve others well, your program needs to quickly mold to new patterns as new data comes in. 

Dixie Downey, superintendent of facilities condition information at George Fox University, saw the need to approach data dynamically during the Oregon wildfires in 2020. With a blood-orange sky and her surroundings covered in sepia tones, Downey says her team was concerned about the air quality for students, and they helped collect data and weigh the risks of canceling outdoor events and athletics on campus. 

She noticed every time she compiled an air quality report, it only showed a snapshot of what the conditions were at the time she created it – which doesn’t account for many of the sudden changes that are characteristic of natural disasters. 

Downey wanted to be more adaptable to make unplanned experiences like those fires less stressful for those involved. 

“I wanted to get into more of the current tools that are available,” Downey says. “That’s exactly why I wanted to get the data analytics certificate.”

George Fox’s new Data Analytics Certificate is designed to provide a practical understanding of foundational data science tools. Students learn data management and visualization, modeling and machine learning using either SAS or Python by analyzing a research question, summarizing their insights and reporting their findings in a professional-quality report.

The certificate is perfect for those considering a career in data or who need to bolster data skills for a current role.

Another student, Garret Fissell, had experience with Excel as a budget manager, but he had not yet explored coding and writing programs. 

“I thought this certificate would be a perfect way for me to dip my feet in the water and see what data analytics is,” he says. Although he did not plan on being a data scientist himself, he wanted to earn the certificate to help him ask the right questions of his colleagues at work and “speak their language.” 

While earning his certificate, Fissell simultaneously earned his bachelor’s degree in management and organizational leadership through the Adult Degree Program at George Fox. This meant the credits he earned through the certificate contributed to his credit total for his degree.

The certificate program emphasizes applying learning to real-world data problems. Students are given data from real organizations for their capstone projects and use their cumulative learning to research, visualize and present their findings on topics of their choice. They develop hypotheses about their proposed research question using statistical tests, then use machine learning processes to apply predictive algorithms to refine their research. In the end, they present their findings in a paper and professional presentation.

For Fissell’s certificate capstone project, he was interested in employee retention in the workplace. He recognized that many others had researched the topic in the past, especially those in human resources, but he was curious about using AI as a new approach to organizing the data and whether or not that would grant more insightful results.

It did. Fissell realized through his work that there were aspects of research that he hadn’t paid attention to before, and that using these tools to his advantage would grant him more accurate results.

With this knowledge, Fissell had new instincts about what to ask in the workplace and how to see the bigger picture alongside the data scientists he was working with.

“It taught me how to pay attention to what data is being collected,” Fissell says, which helps him collaborate with his team.

The data analytics certificate is excellent for a variety of careers and skill levels, whether you are just trying data analysis or whether you have a depth of experience in it. Getting up-to-date with the current tools fosters a better understanding of what is needed to best serve your team.

Ernest Bonat, a data analytics professor at George Fox who specializes in data analytics using machine learning and artificial intelligence, holds workshop periods where students work through issues in their codes together under his guidance. By emulating this workplace dynamic, even with the fully online format, students and professors build professional relationships through consistent, high-quality feedback.

Scatter plots of County Wildland Fire Trigger Data

Correlation Matrix

For Downey’s final project, she learned Python and published a paper investigating the causes of wildland fires in Oregon, partially inspired by the fires she witnessed in 2020. When she originally saw the dataset, she knew from her past experiences in working with air quality that this would be something she was genuinely interested in. The immediate relevance encouraged her to become more invested in her paper. 

Since earning the certification, Downey has put her new skills into practice by working with the data analytics team at George Fox to analyze needs on campus.

“I want to create something that’s sustainable,” Downey says, “so that others who come after me can understand what it is and can do the modifications to keep it alive and keep it running.

Downey hopes that using these new tools will make it easier for her team to present their information to decision-makers and budgeters. 

“The certification taught me methods and tools that I can incorporate for greater analysis of our physical campus while reporting and providing visual tools to our decision-makers,” she says.

“It was exactly what I wanted.”

If you’re interested in creating more adaptable systems to serve others through data analysis, learn more about George Fox’s online Certificate in Data Analytics, and learn more about earning an online bachelor’s degree in data analytics through the university’s Adult Degree Program.

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