Andrew Drinkwater

On industry professionals giving back to students in a pandemic

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Have you paused to think about what it’s like to be a student in these times? I wanted to share my perspective on giving back to students during a pandemic.

This week I’ve had the opportunity to participate virtually in 2 analytics events for students in the Vancouver area: I was an industry judge at an analytics Hackathon for students run by the Beedie School of Business at Simon Fraser University, and the Celebration of Business Analytics by the Sauder School of Business at the University of British Columbia. These events have really shown me the immense analytics talent coming out of local post-secondary institutions.

This is a weird year to be a student: some haven’t been on campus since March, others have never met their classmates and instructors in anything other than a virtual setting. Many students (and faculty) are juggling family responsibilities, careers, isolation and associated mental health challenges.

In this context, I think our role as industry professionals is more important than ever, for several reasons. This, to me, is one of those great opportunities for a win-win.

How students benefit:

  1. Learning about how analytics are used in the workplace.
  2. Learning about career paths they may not be familiar with, and importantly learning that careers are typically non-linear.

thank you so much for your time today in Hackathon and I learned a lot from it - Daijing Lin, Statistics major

  1. Meeting valuable connections to and through industry.

Thank you to all the industry judges, faculty members and coaches for making this such an amazing event! It was an extremely rewarding experience to participate and learn. - Jonathan Lam, Business major

How employers benefit:

But I also wanted to mention why this is so helpful to me, as an employer in a pandemic. I share this vantage point to encourage other industry leaders to get involved.

  1. It is SO INSPIRING. These students did amazing work - at SFU, they focused on a fin-tech case, while UBC showcased a variety of student projects. Their work was top-notch in terms of bridging the gap between business needs and data and analytics. I’m really excited to see how these students will make their mark in the future.
  2. This is a wonderful way to meet talented individuals. At my company, Plaid Analytics, we need analytics professionals who also deeply understand what it is like to run different parts of a university, college, or polytechnic. Students willing to take a risk and join an event like these show courage, differentiation, collaboration, and technical talent, among many other skills. They also have excellent perspective on what their university is doing well and not-so-well.
  3. It’s a great way to connect with industry leaders. At SFU, we had an “analytics legend” competition for industry before the Hackathon, and there were outstanding presentations from Rocky Mountaineer, Best Buy, Vancouver Coastal Health, and many others. At UBC, we had a great presentation from Air Canada on Revenue Management, featuring both a recent graduate and corporate leader. I wouldn’t meet many of these folks without getting involved with events like this. While we work in different industries, we can learn a ton from each other.

What did I do as a judge / industry participant?

Some have asked me what my experience was like. By now, I’m sure you can tell I found it inspiring. But in terms of the “what do you actually do as an industry rep” question, these roles range from pretty basic to far more in-depth. As a judge at SFU, my role was to both provide feedback to the students on their presentations and model, as well as to ask questions. Often, I found my favourite questions were asking the students if they learned something that surprised them, or if they encountered any roadblocks they had to overcome. The more in-depth roles include being part of the organizing committee that helps to vet the case and coordinate the event. I wasn’t on it this year, but the groups that put these events together did an outstanding job.

Thank you message - source: https://www.pexels.com/photo/text-5912586/

My thanks the students who put on such a great show, the organizing cast from the universities who made it possible, to my peers in industry for your insight, and to the program leadership for continuing to help students become leading analytics professionals.

If you haven’t got involved yet, I bet that a campus virtually near you would love to benefit from your perspective. Reach out - start with contacts in a program that relates to your expertise, or try the career centre. Make a difference for a student.