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With such high potential for manufacturers to save energy and money by creating new products from recycled materials, why do so many communities struggle to keep usable waste out of landfills?


Virginia Tech MBA student Kate Brennan and two of her classmates recently tackled that question as part of a course designed to give future business leaders a taste of using data analytics tools to untangle complex challenges.


Brennan’s team integrated 13 years’ worth of statistics on recycling in South Carolina with demographic figures from the Census Bureau, regional manufacturing data, and other related information in the Alteryx Analytic Process Automation (APA) Platform


Their analysis of the results pointed toward a viable solution: creating an interactive online portal where manufacturers and recycling facilities could more easily view each other’s supply chain data and collaborate.


“We didn’t solve the world’s recycling problems with this project, but we did demonstrate how and where improvement can begin by engaging the key players and putting the power of data in their hands.”

—Kate Brennan, Virginia Tech MBA student


That’s exactly the goal professor Barbara Hoopes envisions for students in her Analytics Experiential Learning Module, part of an 18-month Executive MBA Program at Virginia Tech. 


In the analytics course, MBA students test-drive various software applications to mine publicly available data and extract insights to address a business- or community-oriented challenge. For example, one team recently explored data-driven solutions to choosing the location for a new retail business, while another group of students analyzed the shortage of dentists in specific neighborhoods of Washington, D.C.


“As company leaders, I tell them that they need to be intelligent consumers of analytics and data science,” Hoopes says. “Showing them what technologies are available and what’s possible in the world of analytics is a critical part of their MBA education.”

Hoopes added Alteryx to her experiential learning course in fall 2020 with assistance from Alteryx for Good, a program that helps education institutions use this technology to elevate their curricula. Along with offering free Designer licenses for students and educators, Alteryx for Good provides access to technical support and other learning resources.


“It's inspiring to see a company contribute to our educational mission like this,” Hoopes says of the program. “They just made everything very easy for us in terms of getting the students set up with Alteryx software, tech support — all of that was taken care of.”

Alteryx Mentor Brings Real-World Perspective to Class

Alan Jacobson, Chief Data and Analytics Officer at Alteryx and Virginia Tech alum, took the company’s support even further. He connected Hoopes with another Alteryx employee, sales engineer Marie Breton, to serve as a mentor and project coach for students.

“I jumped at the chance because I’m passionate about not only education, but also building our user community,” says Breton. “I was that same adult student eight years ago, trying to earn my master's degree in predictive analytics. So being able to help create this experience in Barbara’s class really appealed to me.”


“I think it was eye-opening for them to weed through the data and have those ‘breakthrough’ moments when they discovered some valuable insights.”

—Marie Breton, sales engineer, Alteryx


Brennan says the opportunity to consult someone with real-world business and technology experience was invaluable as her team started integrating its data within Alteryx.


“Since Marie had a lot of experience solving data challenges, she was very familiar with the roadblocks that people might encounter,” says Brennan. “She demonstrated good recommendations for how to overcome those.”


Lessons Quickly Pay Off in the Workplace

Based on how quickly her students grasped the Alteryx tools and overall environment, Hoopes says she is eager to continue using the software in class.

“Where I saw my students really get the power of Alteryx is in the workflow steps for wrangling multiple sources of data,” Hoopes says. “They were able to integrate datasets, clean them and create new variables for doing their evaluation as they needed them.


“You're not going to have good model outcomes unless you have well-formed data, and that's the part where Alteryx really is able to contribute to this workflow,” she says.

Brennan agrees that Alteryx proved to be powerful, yet also easy to use. “I really appreciated that you don't have to be a data scientist to use this tool effectively and put data to good use,” she says.

“We found it so valuable to be able to join our data and cross-reference all these sources of information using various attributes,” Brennan adds. “Using Alteryx was a time-saver, and we had the peace of mind that our data was going to be clean.”

She has already started putting that experience with Alteryx to use in her work as vice president of operations at a financial services company.

“For class, we wrote a paper detailing best practices in developing and deploying a data-driven strategy,” Brennan says. “I shared this paper with my boss, and we will incorporate much of its contents into our organization’s digital strategy as we move into 2021.”


Brennan adds that Alteryx “would be on my list of recommendations — 100%. I have no doubt we could put it to really great use.”

Alteryx Alumni (Retired)

Great examples of graduate student projects using data analytics for real-world problems. It really brings home how broadly the use of the right data can lead to innovative solutions. Problem-solving comes first, then the rest. If the initial problem formulation is not comprehensive enough, neither will the results be. This is one of the benefits of using a platform like Alteryx Designer.