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SusanCS
Alteryx Alumni (Retired)

How can today’s college students prepare for careers where tools and methods are constantly changing? 

 

Ideally, they have amazing instructors who teach creatively with technology so students can be ready for constant evolution in the professional world. 

 

I recently spoke with three faculty members (and a fortunate alumnus) about how they’ve used Alteryx in their courses. Each of them has a unique story about how and why Alteryx became a key part of their teaching, and each has also professionally benefited from bringing Alteryx to their students. Though there were sometimes challenges along the way, these educators have masterfully incorporated Alteryx into their curricula for their students’ benefit. 

 

Cory Ng, Accounting, Temple University 

Cory Ng (@coryng01) didn’t think of himself as a “tech person,” really, more of a “traditional accountant.” But then he took a weeklong online course on Tableau. The course was taught from Europe, so Ng signed on every day at 4 a.m. to learn.  

 

Those early mornings paid off. The experience ignited an enthusiasm for learning and teaching data analytics. “Now I’m passionate about it,” he says. 

 

 

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Cory Ng

 

 

Ng, associate professor of instruction and undergraduate program coordinator for the Department of Accounting in the Fox School of Business at Temple University, had learned of the increasing importance of data analytics from professional journals, discussions with colleagues, and feedback from employers 

 

Employers wanted our graduates to be exposed to the tools and to the analytics mindset," he says. 

 

Though he might not have been tech-oriented at first, Ng has now redesigned Temple’s undergraduate accounting senior seminar course to focus on data analytics in the accounting profession. The redesigned course exposes students to a variety of data analytics tools, including Alteryx, Excel, SQL and Tableau. The highlight of the class is a group project where students analyze data by creating models and dashboards and then identify insights to help answer important business questions. 

 

Ng has also created two graduate courses, including one called Advanced Data Analytics and Innovation in Accounting that he will teach for the first time next year. The course will also include topics like data transformation using Alteryx, robotic process automation (RPA) with UiPath, and artificial intelligence software for audit applications. 

 

The traditional jobs accountants used to do are transforming, and many tasks can be automated,” Ng says. “With Alteryx and other automation tools, accountants can spend less time on number crunching and data manipulation. Instead, they can focus on the things that are uniquely human, like building relationships and critical thinking.” 

 

Ng is also fortunate to have a collaborative, enthusiastic alumnus in Cameron O’Donnell, now a senior associate in Tax Transformation & Technology at KPMG. O’Donnell has guest lectured in Ng's classes, including a session on using Alteryx to load and prepare data for analysis. 

 

“When we talk about data analytics and its relationship with accounting, the students’ faces — there’s tons of excitement,” O’Donnell says. “It’s remarkable to see students graduate and come into the workplace with this technical background.” 

 

Ng and O’Donnell both recognize that students need this preparation in the classroom to be ready for that rapidly changing workplace. 

 

“So many students tell me they’re so glad they had this class. Some students have discussed the data analytics concepts and tools learned in the classroom during job interviews,” Ng says. 

 

Ng has parlayed his teaching innovations into journal articles and a book. He has published articles on the use and teaching of RPAAI and machine learningblockchain and data visualization in accounting, and has a new co-authored book coming out next year, Artificial Intelligence in Accounting: Practical Applications. 

 

 
Connie Pechmann, Marketing, University of California, Irvine 

Executives used to have assistants who typed documents or prepared presentation graphics for them. But easy-to-use digital applications changed that.  

 

The same is happening with data analytics, Connie Pechmann (@Cpechman) says. Her MBA students at the University of California, Irvine, are prepared to excel in that new reality through her courses. 

 

 

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Connie Pechmann

 

 
Pechmann, professor of marketing in the UCI Paul Merage School of Business, was the first faculty member in her program to begin teaching with Alteryx. She teaches mainly executive MBA students, and their primary interests tend to focus on strategy or marketing. Pechmann soon gets them thinking in new ways.  

 

“Out of 40 people, there might be five that are data analysts. So my approach is to try to explain how data can be used to make really important decisions,” she says. “Alteryx can facilitate all of that so you're not bogged down in data analysis and can't see the forest for the trees.” 

 

The Alteryx course projects identify micromarketing opportunities for social media marketing. Pechmann has students use demographic data — including publicly available voter registration data and the U.S. Census data downloadable from Alteryx — to craft more detailed targeting strategies than those available from social media advertising platforms. Students also use sentiment analysis to understand emotions in tweets. 

 

“Facebook is extremely limited in what you can do demographically and wants to pigeonhole you into using their mysterious analytics ... as opposed to you having control over, ‘Who am I targeting? Who's responding?’” Pechmann says. She has published about this issue as well.  

 

Pechmann sets up mini-case studies for students to address in each class session. “We say, ‘Okay, what's the problem?’ and ‘How does Alteryx help us solve the problem?’ And then we go through it. And then they end up doing their own project related to it,” she explains. 

 

It’s not always an easy start for students who aren’t already analytically minded.  

 

They start out being really overwhelmed: ‘You're going too fast. Slow down.’ I'm like, ‘We have three tools in the workflow!’ We start really slow,” Pechmann says. “And then, by the end, there's a workflow with 30 tools, and they're fine with it. I just take them slowly from simple to complex.” 

 

Pechmann’s students have embraced the challenge. Her course is an elective in the program, but she has had to create additional sections of the course each quarter due to high student demand. 

 

Inspired by the problem-solving approaches they’ve explored, many of Pechmann’s students continue their Alteryx education after the course is over and obtain Core Certification.  

 

“I teach maybe 10 to 20 percent of what you need to be [Core] certified, but they go ahead and learn the rest themselves” with online resources, like those on the Alteryx Community, she says. 

 

Pechmann’s students get jobs in analytics at places like the U.S. Census Bureau, Pepsi, consulting firms and casinos. Some also move on to graduate school in data analytics. 

 

She has found Alteryx resources helpful, including Community participants and user groups, as she plans these innovative experiences for her students. 

 

“Through Alteryx, I've found people who will spend hours and hours teaching me a new tool that they use in their business. Everything I do is reflective of what real users are using, and the only reason I know them is because these users are reaching out to me and helping,” she says. “I just want to put in a plug for the Alteryx Community and Alteryx for finding the right people to talk to me. It's just wonderful.” 

 

 
Sumantra Sarkar, Accounting and Management, Binghamton University (SUNY) 

Students may think their professors know it all already. In reality, professors often have to leave their comfort zones, too. 

 

“I started off with small baby steps. I mean, I did not know what I was getting into,” confesses Sumantra Sarkar. 

 

 

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Sumantra Sarkar

 

 
And yet Sarkar, associate professor in the School of Management at Binghamton University, has built step-by-step a course — Accounting Information Systems — that offers students an amazing array of data and technology experiences. 

 

Though Sarkar is a management information systems specialist by training and in his two decades of industry experience, he has taught in accounting for the last four years, which requires a different perspective.  

 

Information systems courses, with a focus on data analytics, are very, very needed in the market now because of the big data boom,” he says. “Our students generally graduate and join the Big Four. That's the audience that I teach to.” 

 

Sarkar’s program heard from its advisory board of alumni and partners that Excel is now an assumed skill for an intern in the accounting profession. Instead, the employers sought graduates who could clean up data and carry out analysis without coders’ help, saying: “We cannot afford programmers for all projects or small projects, and we need some people who can go and do it on their own.”  

 

Wanting his students to have that advantage, Sarkar began adding new technical tools and projects to his courses, one by one in each semester, which gave him time to learn and get student feedback, plus a chance to recruit students from previous sections as teaching assistants. Students completed projects in Tableau and Visio in which they visualized clean data and created flowcharts of business processes that would generate data.  

 

Sarkar then added a new assignment where students were given multiple datasets in need of cleaning, as they would in the professional world. They used Alteryx to prepare and analyze that data, recognizing that the data would have come from different parts of the business in different formats.  

 

“Rather than doing it in Excel and writing a Visual Basic script, [the students] use Alteryx to make it a visual business process workflow such that it is repeatable later. So that when the next dataset of the same structure comes in, you just run the same Alteryx workflows to process it,” he says. That repeatability of workflows saves ongoing effort, and cuts down on boring tasks the students themselves might face as entry-level accountants.  

 

At the end of the course, Sarkar’s students compete in a game called ERPsim. “They form teams where they would compete against each other as if they're running organizations, everything from forecasting to production to sales. They compete against each other to see who has the most income,” Sarkar explains. For a final twist, he extracts the data from the game and has the students use Tableau to present their outcomes. 

 

Sarkar and a co-author have presented a study on this course design at the American Accounting Association conference, and they’re now seeking its publication in a journal.  

 

Although even baby steps can be challenging, Sarkar’s strategy of innovating gradually and building students’ skills intentionally has worked out well. He regularly asks current and past students for feedback to refine his approach.  

 

“The moment I create a new exercise, I tell the students, ‘This is a pilot exercise. Go and do it, and give me some feedback,’” he says. He adjusted the projects and the flow of the course based on their responses. 

 

Like Pechmann, Sarkar has also been able to make his course projects more realistic by interacting with Alteryx users in industry and in Alteryx Community discussions. He’s worked closely with Alteryx for Good to arrange free student licenses, sometimes at very short notice. He has also used Alteryx webinar materials as well as training materials from KPMG, Ernst & Young and PwC, giving them credit for the contribution. “They are doing it for their own training and they're very, very willing to share,” he says. 

 


 

Ready to start innovating in your own curriculum with Alteryx?  

 

  • Check out the Alteryx for Good program, which provides free Alteryx licenses to higher education faculty and students, and this guide 

 

 

  • We’ve also got a lively discussion going about integrating Alteryx into your curriculum. Read, learn, ask questions, contribute! 

 

We hope you’ll join this important conversation about teaching data skills! 

 

 

Blog title image from #WOCinTech on Flickr. 

Susan Currie Sivek
Senior Data Science Journalist

Susan Currie Sivek, Ph.D., is the data science journalist for the Alteryx Community. She explores data science concepts with a global audience through blog posts and the Data Science Mixer podcast. Her background in academia and social science informs her approach to investigating data and communicating complex ideas — with a dash of creativity from her training in journalism. Susan also loves getting outdoors with her dog and relaxing with some good science fiction. Twitter: @susansivek

Susan Currie Sivek, Ph.D., is the data science journalist for the Alteryx Community. She explores data science concepts with a global audience through blog posts and the Data Science Mixer podcast. Her background in academia and social science informs her approach to investigating data and communicating complex ideas — with a dash of creativity from her training in journalism. Susan also loves getting outdoors with her dog and relaxing with some good science fiction. Twitter: @susansivek